Call Me Ishmael – Fallout 3
Players take on the role of Ishmael in this Fallout 3 mod based loosely on the works of Herman Melville. The player joins a caravan headed to the town of Dust Falls but is ambushed by super mutants along the way. Later, a scripted event shows Orco, an albino super mutant behemoth, destroying the caravan and knocking the player unconscious.
The player wakes up in the town of Dust Falls without their gear. Four side quests and hidden items around town give rewards catering to different playstyles (stealth, medicine & science, small guns and energy weapons). Using these rewards, the player can either find a fatman mini-nuke launcher and obliterate Orco or sneak past the behemoth to retrieve their gear.
- Designed and constructed the entire area using the art assets available
- Created a simple re-texture to make Orco an albino behemoth
- Scripted all of the quests and events (including the cut scene)
- Wrote and implemented all of the dialog
- Scripted all of the NPC AI schedules
Development Time: ~200 hours over 10 weeks
- Make the player feel invested in the characters and town of Dust Falls with side quests and dialog.
- Give the player a reason to hate the villainous Orco by getting to know his victim’s friends and family, and by stealing the player’s inventory—all of which makes destroying him with a mini-nuke launcher more satisfying.
- Create opportunities for multiple play styles and player choice in achieving objectives.
- Bring the town of Dust Falls to life with environmental storytelling and attention to detail.
- Squad-based Combat: I set up two ambushes where the super mutants have the high ground against the player. I did a couple of things to make these encounters seem and feel harder than they really are. Firstly, I made sure to use non-exploding cars as cover so the player would have somewhere to hide. Secondly, I gave many of the super mutants miniguns, which sound and look very impressive (especially when most of the bullets are hitting the player’s cover) but aren’t terribly effective at long range. Thirdly, I made two of the player’s squad members essential NPCs, so even a player focused on non-combat skills could complete the encounter. Fallout 3 does have a cover system with its navmesh so I set that up. I also had to modify the combat behaviors of the NPCs so that the caravan squad would use the cover and the super mutants would ambush properly and not run around the cliff to try and attack the player. The flanking super mutants on the ground are scripted to engage the player after a delay when they are preoccupied with the mutants on the cliff.
- Caravan Dialog: Here I tried to make the player feel invested in the characters in the caravan who will be killed by Orco later. I wanted to give each NPC their own “voice” and to try and tie them into the town (for instance, Pip mentioning his mom and Flask talking about Sparks) so that meeting those characters later is more meaningful. The player has the opportunity to give Flask some whiskey, which unlocks dialog options with Sparks later.
Player Start & Caravan Camp
The player enters the world space through a drainage pipe outside of Vault 101 (location is merely for convenience when testing). Starbuck is scripted to approach the player and initiate dialog as soon as the player enters the area. She warns the player that the road ahead is dangerous if they are planning to travel to Dust Falls, but her caravan should be leaving soon if the player wants to join them. She directs the player to talk to Jonah because he is in charge. A speech skill challenge will tell the player that Starbuck has some serious misgivings about the voyage despite being loyal to Jonah.
Talking to Flask about Dust Falls triggers a small quest that lets the player give him some whiskey if they have any on them. Whether or not the player gives Flask some whiskey, this dialog option opens up a side quest with Sparks later on in Dust Falls.
Pip, a young boy who aspires to be like Jonah and have his own caravan someday will sell the player miscellaneous weapons and armor.
Speaking with Jonah will tell the player that a) he is clearly a little crazy and b) a behemoth named Orco is responsible for the danger ahead. Once the player is ready to head out, they can tell Jonah and the caravan will begin moving for Dust Falls. The NPCs are all scripted to being a patrol behavior on paths along the road. Each NPC has a separate set of markers to prevent them from bunching up on a point and becoming stuck.
The caravan enters the area from the right and triggers the ambush spawners. Two of the five mutants have miniguns and the rest have rifles. The player can use the non-exploding car and guard rails as cover. After a few seconds, melee mutants spawn just out of view around the bend in the road and flank the caravan from the left. The miniguns make a lot of noise and look impressive but are fairly ineffective at this range and the caravan NPCs are relatively powerful, making this an encounter that feels a lot harder than it really is. Starbuck and Jonah are also flagged as essential during this phase of the quest so even a non-combat oriented character can still make it through this encounter. Melee oriented characters have the flanking super mutants to deal with but mostly have to rely on the rest of the caravan to handle the super mutants. The exploding car is often destroyed by a hail of errant minigun bullets but is far enough away from the player to not be a danger.
A new combat style is applied to all of the caravan members to help make the encounter more consistent. The chance of the NPCs taking cover behind the car is very high and a lower combat radius and ranged weapon restrictions help to make sure that the firefight goes as planned.
The second ambush is much like the first, with a similar set up. However, at this point it is likely that the caravan has suffered some casualties and one of the super mutants has a missile launcher, making this encounter a bit more difficult than the first.
The caravan enters from the upper right and exits on the left to a small canyon area just outside of Dust Falls.
Orco Attacks Cut Scene
The cut scene is triggered when the player crosses into the mouth of the canyon. The player can briefly see Dust Falls, their objective, up on the ridge above. However, as soon as the player triggers the event their controls are disabled, the buses in front of them explode violently and the player is stunned by a flash of white light before falling to the ground. Their vision sways and fades to black as secondary explosions go off and Orco approaches. The albino behemoth is the last thing they see before the screen goes completely black and begins loading the next area.
The scripting for the event is based on parts of similar events in Vault 87 and the GNR exterior. Orco is enabled by the trigger and then patrols towards the player, killing any caravan members remaining. Starbuck and Jonah’s essential flag is unset so they are killable. After the player is fully unconscious, any surviving caravan members are killed via script and Orco is disabled. The player is then teleported to Noah’s house in Dust Falls.
When the player wakes up in Noah’s house they are told that he managed to rescue him/her during the night. He gives the player a 10mm pistol, a combat knife and merc troublemaker outfit for clothes. He urges the player not to seek revenge but tells him/her that the rest of their possessions are probably in Orco’s hoard and if they are going to take him on they might find more weapons by the abandoned military base.
Beware the People Weeping Side Quest
The first side quest is given to the player by Noah when they wake up in his house. Noah informs the player that they are the only survivor from the caravan and asks him to give Pip’s hat to his mother, Karen. The main purpose of this quest is to give the player a reason to explore the town a bit and find the other side quests that are available.
When the player gives the hat to Karen they have the option of either lying to her and telling her that Pip is still alive and in hiding or telling her the truth that her son is dead. Either option completes the quest; however, if the player tells her the truth she gives him/her a stealth boy that was meant for Pip.
Microwaveable Side Quest
This side quest is available through talking with Sparks, the proprietor of the Glowing Bowl. Sparks is a non-feral glowing one with an offbeat sense of humor. Food is getting scarce in Dust Falls due to Orco’s raids on caravans coming into the town. However, he informs the player that there might be some rations over by the abandoned military base and that he would pay for anything the player can bring back. Unfortunately, the military base is swarming with army protectrons that the play will need to either kill or avoid. This quest is repeatable and Sparks will always buy Salisbury steak from the player even though there is a limited supply at the military base. The reward for giving Sparks food is 25 caps and 5 experience per item given.
Triage Side Quest
The player can start this side quest at any time by talking to Nurse Kacie in the Dust Falls hospital. The town’s doctor has died and if the player has any kind of medical experience, she could use the help tending to the wounded. If the player agrees to help she gives them three stimpaks can tells them to save as many of the patients as possible.
There are four patients with injuries of varying severity. The most injured patient dies 30 seconds after starting the quest and the other three die in 30 second intervals in order of severity (after 120 seconds, all of the patients are dead). The player can save a patient by either using a stimpak on them or, if their medical skill is high enough, perform surgery. However, the more severe the patient’s wounds, the higher the medical skill the player needs to be able to perform surgery. Saving a patient increases the player’s karma slightly.
Once all of the patients have either been saved or are dead the quest is completed. The player keeps any remaining stimpaks they have not used as a reward. Completing this quest gives players who specialize in medicine a leg up, especially since characters with a high medicine skill will benefit the most from the stimpaks. Of course, an unscrupulous character can simply take the stimpaks for themselves and leave the patients to die.
Super Mutant Camp
Three super mutants with hunting rifles patrol the area outside of Orco’s Lair. The player can either sneak by them (especially if they have found a stealth boy) or kill the mutants. As the player moves towards the cave entrance to Orco’s lair, a message box pops up telling them to inspect the bodies of the dead Brahmin caravan for weapons where the player can find a fatman and six mini nukes.
Orco’s lair is in a giant cave under the mutant camp. Orco patrols around the main cavern with another super mutant. The player can sneak past Orco and head into the side cave that contains the inventory stolen from them by Orco earlier along with a fatman and mini nukes in case the player missed picking them up from the dead Brahmin outside the cave.
The quest is actually completed as soon as the player retrieves their inventory; killing Orco is not actually necessary and the player can choose to forsake vengeance if they so choose. However, if the player wants to kill the behemoth, the cave assets have been scaled up to allow for an open enough area to properly use a fatman.
What went well
- My scripted ambushes and squad combat created unique gameplay experiences that stand out
- My scripted in-game cutscene helps establish Orco as a villain and not just another enemy
- The Triage side quest uses scripting to create an interesting mini-game and lets the player use their non-combat skills
- I was able to account for and reward different play styles, character builds and player choices
- Environmental storytelling and dialog bring the NPCs to life and give them personality
What could have been better
- My initial plans were overscoped for the 6 weeks of development that I had and I ended up having to cut the interior of the military base
- I modeled and imported a working Colt Navy pistol to give the player as a reward but did not have the time to texture it
What I learned
- I learned a lot about how much I could accomplish in a given amount of time and how to scope my levels better
- I learned about text-based scripting using the GECK’s scripting tools