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Build It Before You Break It: On World-Building in the Wastes of Fallout 4

Through deep customization and object-crafting, the upcoming video game wants you to build the gun before you shoot it.

by Giaco Furino
18 October 2015, 12:20pm

Your survivor can customize a giant mech suit to help them in the wastes. Game Screenshot from Fallout 4. Image Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

You wake up after 200 years of sleep to find the world around you (specifically, Boston and the surrounding areas) destroyed by nuclear war. Chaos and lawlessness rule, mutants, raiders, and monsters hunt you down. This is the world of Fallout, a video game franchise by Bethesda Softworks that distinguishes itself from the hordes of sci-fi/post apocalyptic games thanks to its retrofuturism. And in the upcoming Fallout 4, which releases on November 10th for PS4, XBox One, and the PC, a major tool to survival for players comes from crafting and customizing homes, armor, and weapons from raw materials found in the game world. Curious to see what makes the game’s crafting system tick, The Creators Project spoke to Todd Howard, executive producer and game director of Fallout 4.

“We like to give the player the ability to make the game their own,” Todd explains. “We like designing worlds that present them with unique or interesting places to go. With Fallout we present a world where—since it’s been destroyed—the idea that you can rebuild it the way you want really hit home with us. You’re this person from the past who wishes things were back the way they used to be and you can’t go back to that reality.” From that thematic starting point comes Fallout’s crafting and building system.

Players in this post-apocalyptic video game world wander the wasteland, fighting off monsters and raiders, protecting themselves from harm, and unraveling a huge storyline. Running parallel to that is this system for finding and creating new, more powerful items, protective shelters, and armor to defend yourself. But where do you get all the raw materials to make new items?

“There’s all this junk and clutter in the world that you find,” Todd says, “Things that are left over—old teapots, old food, just utility things people have around. And usually in games that stuff is just set dressing. It’s there for visuals. We’re very big on making our world feel very real. You can pick all this stuff up and it has properties. A plastic bottle has ‘plastic.’ And a coffee mug has ‘ceramic’. And a desk fan turns out to be, in our game, one of the most valuable items in the world. [Laughs] It turns out that desk fans have gears and screws and things like that that you might want, and then you use the pieces from that to Macgyver something new together. Things that would normally look like trash, in this game you’ll be like ‘Oh I found this aluminum can, this is important. Now I can make this other thing I was looking for.’”

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Players can create and modify weapons to help them survive. Game Screenshot from Fallout 4. Image Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

“The other side of crafting is making buildings themselves.” Todd goes on to demonstrate: “You can build your own shacks and settlement buildings. And with that you can actually scrap entire parts of the environment. You can scrap a dead tree and use the wood from that to build your settlement.” There’s a lot of room for personal expression in these features. Todd mentions that one of his testers designed a domicile that played tones and music when the player stepped on a certain spot at the building. “You can run power and wires and switches, and it’s almost like you’re building your own logic circuits, visually, because of the things you’re building.”

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The survivor looks out over a customizable world. Game Screenshot from Fallout 4. Image Courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

We asked Todd why he thinks there’s such a new push toward customization and crafting in video games. “It goes back to why a Lego is a great toy: Imagination. It’s not us, the game creators, saying ‘here’s the fun you’re going to have.’ You can create your own. When we first showed this part of the game, it became a touchstone for a lot of people to talk about. And I think a lot of the reason people want to talk about it is because they’re inserting themselves into the conversation. What do I want to build? What do you want to build?”

Get crafting on November 10th with Fallout 4 on Xbox, Playstation 4, and PC.

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