Friday, February 17, 2012

Fallout weapon skills

Folks like to talk about weapons and weapon skills in Fallout.  I'm one of those folks.  Since I played the original Fallout, I disliked how the skills were organized.  Even in Fallout: New Vegas, I wasn't entirely happy with how I laid out the skills (though I was glad that Big Guns went away).  Instead of going through all of the reasons at length, I'm going to summarize, below:

1) In a game where a player makes an investment in a variety of skills, I believe those skills should be applicable from the beginning of the game to the end of the game.  In F1, that wasn't the case with Small Guns/Big Guns/Energy Weapons.  In F:NV, it was true for Guns and EWs, but it resulted in a lot of weapon role redundancy between the two skills.

2) I believe taking different skills should change the gameplay of the character.  This really has never been true between Small Guns/Guns/EWs.  You pretty much use all of them the same way, especially because of role redundancy or application overlap (cf. Laser and Sniper Rifles in F1, Anti-Materiel Rifle and Gauss Rifle in F:NV).  It's also not true of Unarmed/Melee Weapons.

3) Not really my beef, but often comes up from other players: EWs in F:NV don't feel suitably powerful compared to conventional firearms.  This comes from 1), where I wanted players in the early game to have access to items that consistently made use of their EW skill.  Thus, you end up with Laser Pistols and Plasma Pistols that don't feel dramatically different from 9mm Pistols and .357 Magnum Revolvers.  They're all starter weapons.

4) Again, not a personal concern, but an issue for many players: there are a ton of weapons and ammo types in F:NV.  Even taking subtypes out of the mix, there are far more base types than in any other Fallout game, and an arsenal of weapons -- some people like this, some don't.  My concern as a designer is that people are overwhelmed by the number of items and cease to be able to sort, distinguish, and make intelligent choices about what to use, and when.  And the more weapons there are, the more difficult they are to balance.

I think there are a number of ways that you can organize weapon skills in Fallout.  Based on discussions I've had recently about the above problems, I advocate reducing skill point pools further, folding more skills together, and cutting down the number of base weapon and ammo types.  Guns and EWs become Guns, Melee Weapons and Unarmed become Melee, and Explosives stands alone (but absorbs Flamers, Incinerators, and like weapons).

Doing this, you could cut a large number of similar ammunition and base weapon types (e.g. 9mm, 20 Ga. 12.7mm, .357 Magnum, .45-70 Gov't, .50MG and their related weapons), have three weapon skills that feel distinctive, and allow laser and plasma weapons to occupy only mid- and high-end power roles (e.g. Laser Pistols get introduced around mid-game, with weapons like the Plasma Rifle appearing in the late game).

The main consequence from a role-playing perspective would be that certain character concepts would not be consistently viable.  The post-apocalyptic cowboy and grunt would be missing their Brush Guns and LMGs because those roles would likely have been supplanted by EWs (or reduced in power, replacing other items like Trail Carbines/Assault Rifles).  In this regard, it would be similar to F1 in progression, but without the late-game skill shift.  It may be that mods could help conventional firearms creep up into the heavens, but the intended design would imply that players who take this approach are essentially handicapping themselves.

From my perspective, balancing and loot distribution would become much easier and I'd have more confidence that players would intuitively "get" the sort of gameplay they expect when they focus in one of the three weapon skills.  I've seen way, way too many players fumble around with F:NV's arsenal during playtests and Let's Play videos to have confidence that more than 50% of the players are making informed decisions (pre-patch Service Rifle against NCR Heavy Troopers when there's an AMR in your inventory? OKAY!).  Perks would also have to be re-organized and, in some-cases, re-designed, but in some cases, this would clearly be a good thing (e.g. almost all of the Melee/Unarmed-oriented perks would no longer need redundant either/or skill conditionals).

In conclusion,


Dan said...

You make a good point that the similarity in gameplay between different gun skills (and between other skill sets) adds problems due to redundancy. Reducing the skill points pool is one possible solution (and I agree with your analysis of its consequences), but could there not be alternative(s)?

What about attacking the root of the problem by adding gameplay variety to reduce the redundancy amongst the different guns? Give projectile and energy weapons more differing properties, whether directly or via perks. Random brainstorming: armor penetration, penetrating multiple enemies at once, stunning.

Of course, this would have the opposite effect on balance and loot distribution. =D

Anonymous said...

I think energy weapons departed from ballistic weapons in F:NV a little by bypassing a small amount of DT using any energy weapon (even though that wasn't introduced until a later patch).

Something else that could be changed is having a higher science skill increases DT bypass and decreases weapon degradation making science a little more useful. In this way, the Guns skill would affect accuracy and damage with guns and energy weapons as you suggested, but the science skill would make energy weapons more potent. Just my 2 cents...

Diogo Ribeiro said...

i didn't know you had a blog. time for some stalking!

i've been away from Fallout discussions for a long time, though, weapon systems included - :/

some time ago, i was designing (read: just furiously writing it, because I'm not a dev) a game system that adapted to player choices. not in the sense of, say, dialogue trees and reactions, but skill set choices and their use in the gameworld. let's say a character reaches a reclusive town that gets their info from the outside world from a computer mainframe. the computer's been acting weird so the PC tries to investigate this. if the PC had a high science skill, he could use that to reprogram the computer. but what if he had a high mechanical skill? the problem would be different instead, turning out to be some mechanical malfunction that could be manually fixed instead of using some form of programming language. are you a good speaker instead? maybe the problem would be talking disgruntled citizens out of shutting down the computer. etc.

this was a major divisive situation for me because while i think such a system had merits, it kind of conflicted with the idea of roles - not that they wouldn't exist, but they'd be biased towards what the PC had invested in. and instead of being confronted with a situation with multiple solutions, and banging your head for bumping up small arms instead of something like diplomacy, there wouldn't be any situation where you'd go "oh, i might have to try that skill on a replay". *unless*, of course, such a system was designed to only happen during the first hours of the game, becoming less prominent as time passed by (slowly easing the player into the game until they reached X level and could handle more choices; but, again, RPGs!).

would this be viable for guns? i think it might make progression and item aquisition less granular (when I invest in energy weapons, it kinda puts me off I'm constantly finding small weapons; this way, it might be possible to retain a high number of different weapons, but only have players find more useful ones); but then it can rob players of diversity and the importance of choice (specially if we factor in weapon degradation, and using other weapons to improve/mod the original ones).

laker said...

Hello there. You are of course right. There is not much of a difference between shooting from automatic rifle or some kind of energy weapon. It's the same skill, you have to aim and shoot. So merging those skills would be logical (IMO).

But about the problem with the viability of some characters. You could make them viable.

Let's say that energy weapons do more damage. So everyone should use those instead of the old guns:P But, what if you make some adjusting? Energy weapon can for example overheat, so you can shoot really powerful projectiles but only few of them in a row which could be problem if you fight with more enemies, or enemy who can stand few shots (or they can weight much more or ammo can be much more rare).

Or you could make some monsters which are more or less resistant to energy attacks.

Or you can make use of the ammo type (personally I think that you should keep them there, different types of ammo for different enemies, that's really good!), piercing projectiles, hollow, etc.

So there would be situations where old guns with different types of ammo would be better then energy weapons. Player could have one or each (or more) for different situations.

You could scale that for more causal players and say that on easy difficulty monsters wont have resists for energy weapons, or all types of ammo will have same high damage. But on higher difficulties player will have to use things in his disposal effectively if he wants to survive.


LaurenceMcFunk said...

The thing that I was most disappointed in New Vegas compared to Fallout 2 was the feeling of RPG power/character progression Fallout 2 had. This is because I have a fundamental disagreement about weapon progression and skills regarding energy weapons with you, namely that a skill should be useful from start to finish in a game.

In New Vegas, killing human characters is pretty easy, but it wasn't the case in Fallout 2, at least in the early game. Getting into a fight with highwaymen or raiders was downright deadly in the early game That's why I distinctly remember taking a perverse and intense pleasure when I finally got the 10mm SMG in Fallout 2- Now I was The Shit and I finally had a weapon that could reliably kill unarmored foes at close range. Each new weapon you got was a huge improvement in your combat potential.

Contrast that with New Vegas, where right off the bat you can get a pistol and kill Powder Gangers at level 1. Now the 10mm SMG just isn't as great as it was in Fallout 2- you only get a marginal increase in combat potential. The jump between the hunting rifle and sniper rifle is barely even notable.

This is why energy weapons were so "cool" in the old Fallout games- they were endgame weapons and they knew it. When you, for instance, got the gauss rifle, you were now The Shit. In New Vegas you start off with an energy weapon and get marginal increases all the way through the game, none of which are exciting because you could kill a human at level 1 just as well as at level 50. All in all, it's a combination of 2 factors:

1. The relative easiness of combat
2. Simply too many weapons in the game. When you have more, you appreciate less.

In 1999 it might have been unfair to let a player dump points at character creation into a skill that would only benefit them 20 hours down the road, but it's not 1999 anymore. We all have internet access now, and I don't think we should even underestimate that the most casual console player wouldn't look up a character creation guide on a wiki updated on release day. Even if we can't expect them to do that, why not pop up a tooltip saying "Hey! This is a skill that won't be useful until the end. Perhaps you should put those skill points somewhere else?"

LaurenceMcFunk said...

Oh, and I forgot to add: Yes, a player might not be able to play as their "original character" (a post-apoc cowboy with a revolver or a grunt with a Garand) but I'd have to pose the question: Why are we building gameplay and character mechanics around what is essentially LARPing in a computer game?

Anonymous said...

Personally, I love all the different kinds of weapons and ammunition types and sub-types. I've done a couple play-throughs with the Trail Carbine as my main rifle and the Brush Gun for when the shit hits the fan. For those play-throughs the key was perks, (e.g. Cowboy)and ammo sub-types (e.g. Semi-Wadcutter). The same is true with most every weapon.

I think re-organizing Energy Weapons by ammunition could make more viable options.

Energy cells are the equivalent of pistol cartridges. Microfusion cells are proportional to rifle cartridges. And Electron charge packs are similar to large bore cartridges.

This would move the Laser RCW to Energy cells, and the Gatling Laser to Microfusion cells.

I think it could help disillusion people's perception of some Energy Weapons. Seeing the Tesla Cannon using the same ammo as the Laser RCW seems a little strange.

J.E. Sawyer said...

This is because I have a fundamental disagreement about weapon progression and skills regarding energy weapons with you, namely that a skill should be useful from start to finish in a game.

Until I hear a compelling argument about how players benefit from this more than they suffer from it, it's pretty much a dead issue for me.

Most of the rest of your comments seem to be inline with what I wrote: reduce the number of weapons, push EWs to the endgame. There don't need to be two separate skills to do that.

I also I disagree that the game should be designed assuming that people meta-game. Many people don't meta-game. It's irresponsible for the game designer to rely on player meta-gaming to handle the system/content's design deficiencies.

Why are we building gameplay and character mechanics around what is essentially LARPing in a computer game?

By LARPing in a computer game, I assume you mean role-playing, and my answer is, because that's the point.

LaurenceMcFunk said...

That's playing dress up. I don't disagree that playing dress up isn't fun, because I play dress up in any game that gives me enough customization- but that's not what role playing means.

In my multiple playthroughs of New Vegas I've used a variety of different character concepts. One of my characters was the typical NCR hardass grunt, another was the smooth-talking ultra charismatic gunslinger. I also played a geriatric cannibal raider with Totally Bitchin' sunglasses and a mohawk who, with his medicine of 100, was the greatest surgeon in the wasteland. Another playthrough was a dainty female anti-establishment mujahid bomb-maker.

How did the roleplaying experiences of these different playthroughs vary? They didn't. Yes, I used different weapons and armor, but that's only the nitty gritty mechanics of an RPG, not the roleplaying aspect. The general reaction of NPCs to my 70 year old raider mohawk guy and my prettyboy gunslinger were the same. My tough hardass grunt and my freedom fighter girl also had the same general dialogue- there's no way to express a different personality with what you're given in the game... besides playing dress up. In New Vegas the most you ever get was "I used to be a courier" and the occasional dialogue option. One of the greatest failings of Lonesome Road was that Ulysses insists that You Did This in The Past, when there is no evidence at all that you did anything to do with the Divide. Before the plot had come to its conclusion, I figured Ulysses was lying/delusional before finding out that, yes, the game just told me this is what I did- and that didn't synergize well with the rest of the game that keeps your character's past neutral for "role playing" purposes.

Taken to an extreme, if we wanted True Free Blank Slate roleplaying we'd just abstract the text aspect of our hypothetical rpg down to dialogue non-options (as in Oblivion) and represent our player characters with an @ symbol so that our role playing audience could get to imagine in their head what's really happening in their game and what their character looks like and how their character speaks and expresses themself.

This is why Planescape Torment, a game with only one character you could play in many different ways, is always going to be a more compelling roleplaying experience than blank slate characters that play exactly the same save cosmetic differences. I'll always prefer RPGs where you at least pick a background/origin for your character, even if it's just past superficial.

Thank you for running this blog, by the way. This and your formspring gives a pretty good candid insight into the details of RPG mechanics and game design that you don't get from other developers. As many flaws as I felt New Vegas had, I've always enjoyed your analysis of how and why you made a particular design choice. Someone on RPGCodex said that if you weren't working on video games, you'd probably be making really good pen and paper systems.

Anonymous said...

I should have mentioned this in my last post when I briefly touched on perks and ammo sub-types.

Perhaps to give players a better idea of what ammo sub-types and perks can do or even capabilities of weapons, videos of the Vault Boy using those new abilities, sub-types and weapons. I don't mind reading, in fact I think more games should include a little reading. But sometimes the message isn't always conveyed as well as it could be.

Anonymous said...

Are you telling me metal armour [b]shouldn't[/b] have had 70% laser resistance in Fallout 1/2?

Anonymous said...

I think having a single skill for Guns/Energy Weapons could work.

Some people will say "yeah, but, that's the point of having two skills: "They have radical difference of operations."

That could be represented through Perks only available if you have a high Repair (ballistic guns) or Science (energy weapons) skill. That way, if you want your Vigilant Recycler perk (aka be more than simply a good shot with your weapon), you still need to work up the Guns skill + the Science skill.

It already works a bit like that in Vegas. In the new system, tagging only Guns wont make you go far, you'll only have access to perks that increase your rate of fire or your spread.

Anonymous said...

I think that ideally, the energy weapons need to be made more distinct either way. There could definitely be plenty of powerful guns, but give EWs their own niche to fill. Have them appear later in the game, sure, but that doesn't mean they have to be a replacement for conventional firearms.

Anonymous said...

I definitely think EW and conventional guns should be in the same skill, but as others have mentioned, higher repair unlocks specialized perks for conventional guns and higher science unlocks perks for EW. I like the idea of higher repair = less weapon degradation and higher science = more DT bypass.

Anonymous said...

I believe you are over thinking it.

I doubt boxers make good swordsmen, or gunslingers good snipers. I would say many concentrate too much on precious balance and loose focus on the big picture. It explains how modern RPG's seem to be so often dummed down to fans.

What is a RPG without choice, good or bad, the ability to choose from more skills gives the player the freedom to have the character the see in their minds eye, even if it gives access to less weapons.

Soyweiser said...

Until I installed mods where I really needed stronger ammo, it wasn't totally clear what all the weapon ammo did. (Removing DT, good or bad? At least armor piercing was clear when to use, but the high power ammo, not so much) Even more so, when to use what ammo? If, and how much DT an enemy has isn't that clear (sure the hit icons help, but then you are already fighting).

And the 5mm having a base -10 DT (I think added in patches) not clear at all.

That was a bigger gameplay confusion for me than which type of weapon to use, guns or energy. (You just pick one and stick with it).

So in that way, you are right, the weapon choices could be reduced to one choice, ranged or close combat.

But I wonder how much this is related because the big guns skill was also removed. Before you had multiple choices, big guns, energy, guns, explosives, all ranged damage dealers. Some more endgame and some more early game.

But I agree that there are a lot of weapons, and the difference isn't always clear. But isn't that also what the energy/guns split is supposed to fix, clear up which weapons you should just ignore.

I however missed the energy weapons that have a frustrating loading mechanims as a balancing issue, stuff like the cowboy repeater.

Regarding the skill points, I think that in the current system you could reduce amount of skill points given by just increasing how much each point represents. As most skills have cuttoff points at certain levels (survival 33 vs 34 doesn't matter much, but survival 35 gives more crafting possibilities. So you could chance survival 35 into survival 7). This would make all the hardcore fans cry of course. I wonder if it makes the game easier to understand.

Ps: wow, flamers and incinerators use energy weapon as a skill? I thought explosives. That explains why the energy weapon category always felt a bit empty to me.

A personal anecdote about the 10mm submachine gun I had one in fairly good repair, and it saved me and ED-E's virtual life. That gun, and 60 hollow point ammo was the only gun that could drop a more monsters mod stalker that had spawned outside a house I explored. Monster mod, making it hard to reach Primm. :D

Anonymous said...

I was thinking less guns could possibly work, as I have stated earlier I would hate to see some of the guns go.

But as long as the same as Fallout 3 with the lack of balance amongst the weapons. I noticed people only used the same few guns with every playthrough. 10mm Pistol in the beginning, along with the Assault rifle and sometimes the Combat Shotgun. This transitioned into the Chinese Assault rifle and the Combat Shotgun and the Sniper Rifle serving a niche role.

This is still a worry I have with fewer guns. Fewer guns can create this same dilemma.

Anonymous said...

These proposed changes sound like they are more focused on making things easier for the designer than they are fun for the player.

You're going down the road of Mass Effect.

You already have a good categorization. Now you need to make them play differently.

The best way you guys started to deal with this in NV was to have the recharger. That gun played differently than any other in the game. All energy weapons should have had that. EC and other energy "ammo" could have been called "batteries" which would alter the rate of regeneration, stored more "shots", or etc.

Anonymous said...

Also, armors need to carry different buffs against different weapon types. If you go up against a robot with chrome armor and heat sinks then your laser pistol isn't so hot - better switch to the anti-material rifle.

In the current fallout universe armor is just armor. In the real world armor works vs. different things. Armor that will stop a bullet may not stop a knife. It just depends.

Having ammo types was a good idea, but the interface for using it was tacked on. I have played through almost 4 times now and I forget about ammo types every time.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous above me (I'm assuming the last two posts were from the same person.)

Maybe you should read this:,_rating_etiquette_and_proper_criticism

The important bits:

"Most modders mod for themselves. That is the bottom line."


"Don't like the mod? Hit the back button."

Anonymous said...

Me again, my link didn't work but my point stands...

Mysterious man from the Shadows said...

Okay, this is just my personal opinion, but I had very mixed feelings about EWs in F:NV. I agree with the sentiment that they felt weaker than they should have been for the most part. (Except the Gauss rifle)

But, something about the design of the energy weapons, how sci-fi and almost cartoonish most of them looked, made this actually feel right to me.

The 9mm pistol you get at the beginning looks real, presumably because you based on a real gun. Because there are no laser pistols to speak of IRL, one was made up for the game, and in keeping with Fallout tradition, it seems to me like a 1950s concept of a laser pistol.

I'm kind of weird in that I care about the aesthetics of the weapons, and so, because I liked the look of the guns more than EWs, I preferred using them, and the underlying mechanics allowed for that.

Personally, therefore, I like being able to play through the game with nothing but guns, and kicking the EWs to the curb. So, I thought it worked well in F:NV

Anonymous said...

@Mysterious Man from the Shadows

The energy weapons in Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 looked more like firearms. Then Bethesda basically re-booted the series after they acquired the rights and made Fallout 3. Fallout 3 then made energy weapons look different. The Gauss rifle is the only energy weapon I can think of that looks the same. The old Laser rifle actually looked more like the Sniper rifle but with heavy modifications done to it. The current models for the Laser rifle look more like prototypes to me. They don't really appear to be a final weapon platform ready for production.

Konstantinos said...

"Playing dress up"? Yes, it's probably quite accurate. And I'd vouch for having as many dress up aesthetics options as possible. What else is left? Removing the skill you remove the feeling of investing into something. With level scaling being a concept held so dearly by Bethesda and the continuous "war on redundancy" *cough*dumbing-down*cough* why not make the skill of your choice (guns/explosives/melee) scale with your level?

Make skills more diverse via perks and mechanics rather than remove what can be saved. I am obviously "that type of a player", but please stop moving in the direction of skill cutting and gutting. "I doubt boxers make good swordsmen"(c)

Even if EWs and guns fighting mechanics can be described as similar, it still makes the player feel different. (A member of a certain in-game subculture to an extent. I buy from Van Graffs, don't hesitate to investigate hi-tech ruins and take great pride in my fully modded laser rifle AS OPPOSED TO those farm-grown 1st Recon obsolete lead-dealers.)

I'm not vouching for Morrowind-type diversity, but let's not reduce ad absurdum. Most players would end up rising lockpick and science anyways for the sake of breaking in - let's merge them? Barter is often neglected - let's get rid of it rather than make it more appealing?

(Precisely why I loved changes to survival - it was made appealing and an *alternative to [something else, i.e. choice]* medicine, even though healing by food is nonsense. And barter's problem is that it provides veeeeery subtle bonuses. I'm not saying they aren't there, just considering why it gets overlooked.)

Anonymous said...

Comments is tl;dr sorry if I repeat after someone!

How I see this topic:

1. Divide gun skills into one handed and two handed.

2. Apply STR restrictions with heavy penalties at spread/recoil (but not damage pls) if STR is not matched.

3. Make EW rarer with rarer ammo but powerful and more accurate and with lower STR restrictions. Apply costly maintenance and overheating if needed.

I hope this give you some food to thought. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

@ JSawyer
"By Gamers For Gamers" What happened to that? Quality games for real gamers? WHAT HAPPENED!
Oh right you guys all went Bankrupt......where was this so called campaign funding back then??

Selling Fallout to that Evil Bethesda Bullshit company WAS NOT "BY GAMERS FOR GAMERS" only to have Bethesda dumb it down...strip it of content and make it mainstream bullshit for N00b players.

How is it BG I & II, IDW I & II were great. Fallout 1 & 2 great
Yet NWN I & II was lifeless and dull? Looks like you guys forgot "By Gamers For Gamers" and put out half-ass unfinished games..Right??

When I played Quake 2 it was fast full of action and no tutorial needed. no location markers..etc.
guns and violence and lots of fun!


Dato said...

I agree with your points about combing guns and energy weapon skills (melee and unarmed) into one and general idea making less skills, but giving them many ways to use in the game.
I think player focus need to shift from skills to perks, making less skills, but give choices about class of weapon player want to use through perks trees. That trees should be stick to every skill. For example one way for energy weapons, another for pistols etc., and all that inside perks tree! (similar like in Skyrim)
I think Bethesda already did that with Fallout 4.

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