Chungking Espresso

Fallout 3 and Urban Dynamics

Posted in Gaming by Simon Ferrari on February 18, 2009

I may not be the biggest fan of the blogosphere centering around Michael Abbott’s Brainy Gamer, but sometimes it piques ideas that I can use for later research papers. Here’s a comment I made on his review for Fallout 3 (in response to another comment about the differences between Fallout 3 and Morrowind).


I agree with your lauding Morrowind over Fallout 3. For me it’s for a different reason. Quick travel. Maybe part of the reason Fallout 3 seemed so uncaring and devoid of creativity comes down to the problems inherent in efficient transportation.

We’ve been reading Forrester’s Urban Dynamics for a game design class (it influenced the design of Sim City Classic), and one of the arguments he makes is that efficient transport (and this means the then-newish Interstate system and not how we usually mean it now: “public transit”) leads to a decay of the area in between commercial zones and higher-class residential areas linked by the Interstate.

It’s hard to care about something that you don’t have to see. Interstate systems allow most people to ignore decaying areas and thus permit them to propagate and eventually cause citywide problems that administrations have little ability to fix (here’s looking at you, Detroit).

The same thing has happened with Fallout 3 (and Oblivion). In Morrowind, every new visited area was an adventure. Do you remember the first time you trekked north for two realtime hours in order to find that Dark elf gypsy camp? Or searching for the tower of the Sorceror who was attempting to cure the Corpus disease? These experiences were sublime – frightening and beautiful at the same time.

The worlds keep getting bigger (Oblivion and Fallout 3), and so they had to include quick transport. This then allowed them to put less time into designing the areas in between the story’s key points of interest. They should probably take a cue from Rockstar (in the difference of scale between GTA: SA and GTA4): quality, not quantity, of space.

Oh and I know Morrowind had those insects you could travel on, the Mage guild transport, recall spells, and the ancient circle of portals you had to find keys for; however, these are qualitatively different in effect than being able to instantly travel from anywhere to anywhere.


One Response

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  1. deckard47 said, on February 22, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    I’m jealous. This is something that bugged me about both games, but I could never have defined it for myself (so it would seem). In Morrowind, you had to earn those fast travels, through money, spells, and a lot of time. In the later games, they had to provide fast travel for free, right away, because (and I really think this is true) there’s not as much a reason to not Fast Travel. There are a ton of things to do along the way, but not in a way that makes it worth t after a few hours. A game that could make non-fast travel (in an Oblivion-scaled world) consistently interesting would be quite an achievement (and you’re right, GTA IV [and SR 2 I’d say] both achieved this).

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