Fallout 4

F4_Wiki_BannerI really enjoyed Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. I played both of them to death, despite the bugs. It was therefore, no surprise to me that I was super excited about Fallout 4 when I heard it was being released.  The only issue really, was Bethesda, they’re not well known for releasing bug free stuff, and on top of that, I’d found Skyrim to be lacking any soul.  I feared that perhaps Fallout would be gutted, ripped of its sense of being and left cold and emotionless on the floor.

I needn’t have worried.  I’ve read reviews and comments from people who find Fallout 4 lacking; they say it’s just a big tower defence game, or there’s little purpose beyond travel to point A, shoot the enemy to death, and then return to point B.  I’d argue that’s no different to Fallout 3 certainly, although Fallout: New Vegas was a little richer than that.  However, the key with all three games is that the main quest line, and in fact, most of the side quests, aren’t where Fallout games get their humanity, their soul, or their poignant introspective.  They get those from the little letters, terminal messages, holotapes, non-main-quest NPC dialogue and other sources of background information.  Seeking those out, reading everything is what gives me the sense of enjoyment from the world, and Fallout 4 delivers on that level as well as the others.

Power Armour Army

Power Armour Army – about half the suits I eventually collected. There they’re displayed on top of the three story house I built for myself.

There are tales spread throughout the whole of the Boston, Massachusetts (the location for Fallout 4) of people living, dying and being reborn in the aftermath of the nuclear war.  Yes, there’s a main quest (mirroring that of Fallout 3 in many ways), and yes there are factions (bringing something from New Vegas more formally into Fallout 4).  Yes, the Brotherhood of Steel turn up (of course), and there are raiders and supermutants and ghouls.  There are vaults and mercenary groups, and bars and shops and blasted wasteland.  All of these things are there.  They’re all to be explored, and shot up.  But the soul, the jam in the centre of this delicious doughnut is the treasure trove of hidden history that you only get by digging through the bodies of those you have vanquished.

Knee deep in ghoul remains, trying to find a vacuum tube, you discover a hastily scrawled note.  A husband, telling his wife where he has gone, and that he will be back.  You know he never made it.  Half dead from a deathclaw attack, you open a cabin door and find the remains of a young woman, running away from home to be with her lost love.  She never found him.  Resplendent in your new power armour, you find an abandoned room in a sewer, and huddled in the corner is a skeleton, grasping the last Salisbury steak box a 10mm pistol and 5 rounds of ammo on the ground.  You know they made a last stand, defending the boxed meat product from all-comers.

This is Fallout 4, this is why it still has a soul, and this is why I played it for over a hundred hours.

Power Armour - Back View

Here are the suits from the back

The main quest is clearly signposted as always, but you’ll struggle to simply follow that and do nothing else.  As with Fallout 3 the second location you need to reach is a fair hike across the map and unless you have excellent luck and incredible tunnel vision, by the time you get there you’ll be knee deep in side quests.  F4 has companions and factions which affect which quests you get offered, which ones you can complete and how the game ends.  Having to repair weapons and armour has gone, and the crafting system from New Vegas has been boosted with weapons and armour being highly customisable.  The two key new features are settlement building and the way power armour is handled.  I won’t talk about how those features work (the web is covered in that) except to say, I really enjoyed the settlements, and while the new power armour has advantages and disadvantages, I enjoyed it, and found it less game breaking in some ways than the power armour in F3.

The all new voiced dialogue was interesting, and although I don’t think the game needed it I think it benefited from it.  Dialogue wasn’t quite as witty as Fallout: New Vegas, but it was still engaging and at least on my first play-through of a quest (i.e. assuming I didn’t die and have to do it again) I didn’t skip any dialogue (which I’m notorious for, even when it’s unheard).

The locations are interesting, with some new approaches and some old classics.  I did find some of the z-axis layouts very hard to understand and deal with – both inside buildings (their own discrete areas) and in the open world setting.  There are some very high places you can reach through some very convoluted routes, which frustrated me several times.  I’m sure other people love them, and I learned to deal with them, but as with F3 and F:NV, it’s not always obvious how to navigate around key locations.

NPC companions are varied and interesting, and their dialogue is all spectacularly different, which was enjoyable.

Power Armour - Side View

Dramatic shot of power armour!

Some of the faction quests were very repetitive (especially the Minutemen), and they didn’t always feel joined up.  I often completed a Minutemen quest for a settlement which had already joined the cause, only to be told it was great to get another settlement on-board.  I didn’t personally suffer any significant bugs, certainly nothing quest related.  I did get stuck in the scenery once and had to reload a save (Greté played on the PC, and the one time she got stuck she used a console command to get out, I was very jealous).  There were times when my character just stood still after dialogue, both he and the NPC kind of playing chicken to see who would walk away first.  It always resolved itself eventually but I’ve read some people getting stuck like that and having to reload.

Faction-breaking quests (where you cause one faction to hate you) are clearly telegraphed, and for the most part I knew if my actions were going to upset someone.  However, as with F3 and F:NV it is possible to do the quests in such an order that you confuse the NPC’s who won’t let you hand a quest in because they’re eager to talk about something else.  Also, as with all Bethesda games, I found NPC’s would assume I had knowledge of an event long before I actually triggered it.

Even with those flaws though, Fallout 4 was absorbing, engaging and fun.  A worthy successor to Fallout 3 and although some might argue it doesn’t make enough of a step change, I always prefer evolution rather than revolution in my game sequels.

Play Fallout 4, it has a heart, and it wants to be your friend.  If you’ve played Fallout 3, take time to look for all the connections that Fallout 4 has to that game.  NPC’s, locations, events, and even the main storyline.

Note: The screenshots are from my Xbox One play through.  It’s ridiculously complicated to get screenshots out of a game on the Xbox.  In the end I had to sign up to One Drive, save them to that, and then get them on the PC via the One Drive web interface.

It’s January. Actually, it’s January 2013.

This is my semi-regular where the hell have I been post.  I’ve been writing these as long as I’ve been blogging.  I don’t think I write them for you, dear reader, but for me, so that I can remember what the hell I’ve been up to because frankly, I’m not very good at remembering.

It’s good sometimes to take stock, see where I am, what’s happened, where I’m going, why I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing.  This is, in the very best use of the word, meta.

Without a doubt, Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook have replaced my desire or need to write blog posts.  Letterboxd has replaced the location I write about movies (and I quite like Letterboxd, let me tell you, although I’m not sure the social media side of it is going to work out, a lot of people follow a lot of other people and it’s not easy to see what’s going on there).  As a result, my blog takes second fiddle really, anything I feel the need to urgently blurt out happens in under 140 characters and I tend not to think about it in broader terms and turn it into a blog post.

That’s probably a shame, although I’m not sure it’s as if a thousand readers are missing out on my rambling.

Life in general is the same as life in general always is.  I’m still coming to terms with the recent death of my mother, and what that means for my life, and more importantly the life of my sister and her family.

P1120084I will risk the wrath of the car gods by saying that we finally bought into the new car market.  After 3 years of very painful car experiences, both in terms of cost and convenience, we’ve bought a new one.  Three year warranty, no MOT for the first three years either, low road tax, and most importantly, new.  That means it’s not carrying a whole bunch of latent problems that lie in wait until we have no money left that month and then leap out and bite us.  It’s the smallest car we’ve ever owned, but it’s new and it’s ours and it finally gives us a sense of security in terms of being able to get to places.  After 3 years we can use it as the deposit on another new car, and so on, and so hopefully over time, we’ll be in a much more stable position.

Of course, it’s not free, and there’s a monthly payment, but at the moment, the payment year on year is less than we were paying purely for repairs and MOT’s on previous cars.  I think one year the Mondeo cost us around £1200 in multiple essential repairs, each time you think it’s just low enough in cost to cover it, but over the year it always mounted up.  The new car is less than £100pm.

The house needs sorting.  So much stuff.  We’ve not decorated in any sense since we moved in, it’s not in us to just do it, and we can’t afford to pay someone else, but it’s going to have to happen soon.  Both sofas in the lounge are dead, and the excellent covering Grete made to hide the deadness isn’t going to last much longer.  We got the brickwork on the outside of the house sorted, after I blogged about it a while ago, and a nice person responded and said ‘out of all that, sort the bricks before winter’, so we did.  But there’s a bucket load that needs doing.  The drive is basically falling apart since next door removed the massive hedge and replaced it with a fence – I think the soil has shifted quite a bit, and the drive is slumping sideways.  Ah well, as with all things like this, we’ll wait until it becomes necessary rather than desirable and then deal with it.  Like the boiler and the central heating.  We’ll muddle along, doing what’s necessary, always hoping it’s enough until we win the lottery.

Work is work.  I’m not cut out for working for a living, but I manage to hide it pretty well.

I’m amazed daily at the pace of change in the world of IT and technology, if we think this is the future the next five to ten years are going to be amazing.  ‘Screens’ are going to essentially vanish, turning into work surfaces and converging so that they become computers.  Mobile computing will become the only form of computing.  Follow-me data will become the normal kind of data.  Privacy will face even greater challenges, and yet government agencies will continue to realise that they are losing a battle against encryption and secrecy.  The public will become more public and the private will become even more private.

I’m still diabetic, still taking the tablets, and still handling it okay, and all the while still pretending it’s okay not to really lose weight, and that somehow managing it is enough.  One day I’ll finally admit it’s not enough and that the closer I get to 50, the more I’ll have to work to stay off insulin.

We haven’t been to the gym for a very long time, sadly Grete’s back kept us away for a good portion of last year and frankly right now, it’s too cold, but I think if we made new years resolutions, which we don’t, then going back to the gym would be at the top for us both.  Grete’s doing amazingly well with her diet, getting back on that wagon.

My Spectrum fad isn’t over, but it’s on hold.  It turns out that I have room in my life for one hobby.  I’m either playing computer games, or reading, or watching films, or messing with computers, or painting miniatures, but I don’t seem to be able to balance all of them over a several week period.  At the moment, I’m back to games and movies.  Who knows how it’ll change over the next few months as the weather picks up.

bookthing-square2Speaking of books – BookThing is still going strong (and has a nice new logo), and I’m really proud of what Grete has built there.  Sanderson has finally finished the Wheel of Time series, taking over after the tragic death of Jordan.  I’m tempted, at times, to give the whole series a shot now.  I read a quick review of the final book and it suggests Sanderson has given it a fitting end, now that the end is there, maybe I’ll have the will to plough through the braid pulling and complete stupidity that some of the characters demonstrate.  Perhaps.

Stella Gemmell has written a novel, due to be released later this year, which is just awesome news.  I so hope it does well, and it’ll be one of the first books I’ve looked forward to in a long time.  I wish Mike Carey would write another Felix Castor book, but it looks like he’s doing something else first.  I know you can’t force art, but come on Mike, for me? Please?  I started the new Dresden book but haven’t finished it, got sidetracked by movies and games (see above).  I think it’s better so far than Ghost Story was, but it still hasn’t kicked into the kind of enjoyment the previous books gave me.  I hope the spark isn’t gone, I hope the flame still burns somewhere and that the story picks up.

fringeFringe!  Fringe, Fringe, Fringe finished.  We watched all 13 episodes over a 2 day period, having specifically stored them all up and read nothing until the finale had been broadcast.  It was excellent.  One of the best TV series’ I’ve ever watched, and a criminal shame it ended so soon.  But at least they knew the end was coming, FOX gave them that gift.  Was it the best it could have been?  Maybe, maybe not, but it reminded us where the story had come from, it answered some of our questions, and it made sure to ask another one right at the end.  I would have liked more of some things and less of others, but art is art and they only had 13 episodes and a reduced budget.   Something has to change if we’re going to get good quality genre TV shows with high production values, rather than cheap serials with guys in capes shooting bows and low production values.  Networks must trust the shows to build a following over several seasons, they must give them the creativity they need and the chance to grow, not order half seasons at a time, risking leaving them in limbo.

Quality genre TV asks sweeping questions over many, many episodes, but I guess they didn’t learn with Babylon 5, nor Firefly, and Fringe won’t teach them anything either.  Advertising revenue is king, immediate gratification is the only option, and our TV will become more and more like the Running Man world we all laughed at (but secretly expected to happen).

the hobbit pressI saw The Hobbit – it was nearly 3 hours of indulgent awesomeness.

We’ve started watching The Following (Bacon is good, in sandwiches and on my TV), and Criminal Minds is back next week, so plenty of harrowing TV to watch, broken up with episodes of Rizzoli & Isles, Bones and hopefully soon Castle, to keep us calm and not fretting quite so much.  Ted Danson in CSI worked far better than I expected, and I’m looking forward to his return as well.  Since our cats bought us the entire Battlestar Galactica series on Blu-ray, we’ll need to get around to watching that eventually, and I’m assured by a friend at work that it’s as good as, if not better than, Fringe.  We’ll see, we’ll see.  Alcatraz got cancelled – you bastards, it was quite good, and Sarah Jones was superb in the lead role, a good, strong, solid, believable female lead character, brushed aside by a network which needs instant results.  That series could have been huge.

I put a long list together on LetterBoxd about movies coming in 2013, you can read it here.  It seemed like a good place to put it, although it’s garnered less interest there than when I previously put that kind of thing on my blog, so maybe I’ll do that next time.

And I’m slowing down which means I think I’ve probably said enough for one post.  This is 2013, even the date sounds futuristic – let’s make the best of it.

Reviewing Fast Food as if it was Haute cuisine

I’ve posted a few blogs about this recently and in the past, and I’m doing it again although I’m taking a slightly different slant.  The world of food is full of variation and range.  Within different types of food there are certain qualities that are universally accepted as bad (does the food give me food poisoning? does it make me want to vomit?) and qualities that can vary between different types of product.  I reject the idea that only one type of food is considered right and that all other foods are inferior.  I believe that depending on the situation, the person and the immediate desire different foods can deliver the required experience (enjoyment).

Sure, there’s no doubt that certain foods have the right nutritional quality and some don’t, but if what you seek is enjoyment from eating then I posit that some days you may get that enjoyment from a Burger King Whopper and other days from  Haute cuisine Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce.  If what you expected and wanted was a Whopper and what you got was Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce then you may end up being disappointed and vice versa.  Of course this doesn’t always work out, if you expected a Whopper and got Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce, you might really enjoy the Quail and be pleasantly surprised, but it doesn’t mean you don’t like Whoppers.  It is possible to enjoy a whole range of different food types on their own merits without dismissing the existence of other foods types.

None of this should come as a surprise to most people, in my view.  I think most people realise that enjoyment varies and that what gives you enjoyment on different days can be different things.  Where we get a clash is when people who express an opinion about Food as a subject matter fail to realise that different foods all have their merits and they review that food with a single palette of words and expectations.  If you review a Burger King Whopper using the same standards as Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce then the review might claim the Burger King is a watery mush of over excited tastes smashed together in a microwave oven which no one could possibly enjoy. If you reviewed Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce using the same expectations you had when you reviewed a Whopper you might conclude it’s overly fussy expensive chicken in a sauce you wouldn’t feed to the dog.

Good reviewers and good critics understand the context in which the product or food they’re reviewing exists.  If you do nothing but review haute cuisine then sure, you’re free to stick to a single palette of experience and vocabulary and likewise if your job or hobby is to review fast food then your comparisons are all at the same level.  However if you’re keen to review a range of food types you have to be very careful with your expectations.  Yes, you should demand and expect fast food to be of the highest fast food quality, but you shouldn’t expect it to display the same qualities as Haute cuisine, and of course if you found haute cuisine to be delicious despite the fact that it took 18 seconds to cook and came in a bun you might think you’re reviewing fast food all over again.

Additionally, and again this should not surprise anyone, it’s perfectly possible to not enjoy any fast food.  To decide the whole genre of food is bland and tasteless and beneath you.  It’s also possible to decide that haute cuisine is pointless over frilly and can’t be beaten by a good home cooked sunday roast.  But you shouldn’t dismiss them as valid sources of enjoyment for other people just because you don’t like them.  Nor should you get upset that some people can make a good living out of making food you don’t enjoy, or that people you know enjoy food you hate.  Does making Quail in Puff Pastry Shell with Foie Gras and Truffle Sauce require more skill than a Burger King Whopper?  I don’t think anyone would deny that was true.  It certainly requires a specific set of skills.  Does serving a Whopper require no skill?  Certainly not, they’re just different and more readily attainable than those required to be a top chef.  And of course if we look at the middle ground, perhaps a local restaurant then the skills required are similar to those of top chefs with an added hint of the speed and customer service required in a fast food joint.

What’s the point of this overly long, tedious statement of the obvious?

It’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, clearly.  To some extent it’s also Star Trek and Terminator Salvation.  Those films set out to entertain.  They set out to engage an audience and provide a couple of hours of escapism and fun.  They did not set out to question your beliefs, to expand your conciousness, to develop your interest in physics, they did not set out to make you question history or help you understand your place in the world.  There are films that do that, they set out to do exactly that.  There are films which want to tell the truth, to make you look at the truth in a new way, to make you weep and cry and question everything.  There are films which tell stories where the characters matter and films which tell stories where the explosions matter.  All of these films are valid.

Different people enjoy different movies at different times for different reasons.  But reviewing a film and describing it as awful because it’s missing certain elements is silly, if the film wasn’t even trying to bring those elements to the screen in the first place but is still entertaining.

Was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen entertaining?  Yes, I had a really good 2.5 hours of popcorn movie enjoyment.  I laughed and sniffed a little, and I felt engaged and interested and, well, entertained.  I don’t expect everyone to feel like that, and I expect some people who do understand the context of the movie still thought it was a bad example of the genre.  That’s fine, but I don’t accept people think it was a bad movie because it didn’t give them what they expect from a drama or a noir crime thriller.

This is a good review of Transformers 2.  I don’t agree with all of it, and I rate the movie higher.  I was able to ignore the bits the reviewer didn’t like and they didn’t ruin the movie for me.  But the guy writing the review got the context and reviewed the movie within that context.  He didn’t review Transformers 2 as if it was a period drama.

An evening with Kevin Smith

Grete got me a bunch of Kevin Smith stuff for Christmas (I hope he enjoyed the pay cheque, and I hope Joss Whedon enjoyed his pay cheque after I got Grete a bunch of his stuff for her).  That included the two ‘An evening with ….’ DVD’s (one, two).  I’d seen a couple of short clips on YouTube and then mentioned the DVD’s to her so I knew before I watched them the kind of thing I was going to get.  I just finished watching the two discs in the first set and it’s pretty good.

I was expecting Kevin to be funny, vulgar and entertaining and he was.  But I wasn’t expecting the audience to be quite so annoying in places.  I guess I should have expected it – he visits colleges (or whatever they call them in America) and students the world over are pretty similar.  There are fans and there are obsessive fans, and obsessive fans, alcohol and meeting their hero don’t always mix.

When the radio is on in the car, I always turn it over during any bit where real people have to phone in.  I’m sorry, but there’s something about the kind of people who phone in to the radio and speak, and the way in which they speak that makes me cringe.  During at least half of the questions on the DVD I was cringing, for two in particular I almost had to forward past the speaker because they were embarrassing themselves so much it made me hurt inside.  The rest of the time though, the questions were interesting and well presented.

In every case (except the two non-questions), Kevin’s answers were interesting and amusing and in a few instances they were long, detailed, really engaging and stomach-achingly funny.  I felt sorry for the girl who asked ‘Do you believe in God and why?’ and got a couple of one line answers (yes, because I have a career).  I found the answers funny but you could tell she was hoping for something a little deeper.  On the other hand in a few instances what start as simple questions lead Kevin into pretty long stories about his career, how he met his wife, working with Prince and starting a fight of words with Tim Burton.

The DVD is a two disc set, with about 100 minutes on each disc.  In the UK it’s released as region 2, but NTCS format.  It played fine on our player.  It’s filmed in front of college audiences in 4 maybe 5 different colleges and intercut. Kevin is personal, open and honest, and vulgar.  If you’ve seen his movies you know what to expect, if not, you probably should know to cover the kid’s ears.  I really enjoyed watching the two discs, although I had intended to ‘have them on in the background’ while I did something else, I found myself totally absorbed and unable to do anything but watch, listen and laugh (and cringe).

I recommend them to anyone who likes movies, Kevin Smith, or overweight bearded guys making college nerds feel bad.

The DVD description on Amazon says “DVD Description: Director Kevin Smith hits the college circuit with a series of humorous lectures. Through questions from the audience he discusses the pros and cons of movie making.” which is essentially tosh.  It’s “Kevin Smith answering everything from the stupidly inane to the blistering inciteful questions, from fans, stoned college nerds and people who wandered in lost from the cold”.