The Character Lackground

I intended to be diving back into this, not that my life is finally getting settled.  I was going to start emerging from my house every once a while, begin training for the eventual ultimate battle between good and evil again, then maybe find a nice girl or three to settle down in my old age that shall never come because I’ll have attained true immortality by them.  You know, the usual.  Point is that I had plans.  Big plans.  Like this:


But then Fallout 4 came into my life.  And all those plans went out the window.  Fallout is one of those series I’ve got so much history with it’s impossible for me to be objective on, and Fallout 4 has been an absolute experience for me.  I treated my first time with the game like a new lover.  I enjoyed peeling away the layers slowly, took my time getting into it, and spent a good long while exploring every inch of that game.


When I’m given the option, I like to project onto my video game characters.  Not necessarily the whole self-insertion deal, although I am sometimes prone to that because you would be too if you were as awesome as I am.  Building my own characters on top of the blank slate MCs some games provide?  I am all over that.  And Fallout has always had allowed you to do just that.  Except Brotherhood of Steel.  But let’s not talk about Brotherhood of Steel.  Anyways, I was totally prepped to do that here.  Had myself a big badass woman war hero with a complex set of morals ready to bring some tough justice to the Commonwealth.  So excited.  But then the game apparently decided that wasn’t good enough.  Instead I had to be a lawyer.

I immediately lept from my Cryopod and brought some good old pre-war violence to the commonwealth.  As a lawyer.  I have little talent for speaking but plenty for shooting.  But I’m a lawyer.  I almost immediately took command of what became one of the greatest combat forces in the Commonwealth.  The lawyer.  There’s something off there.

I love established characters.  I love being able to impress my own characters into the game. Either way, I’m good with it.  But you have to let me have one or the other.  Giving me a blank character with a few very specific background traits just ruins whatever I might have going.

8 responses to “The Character Lackground

  1. It’s always a problem when developers don’t go full tilt with an idea isn’t it? I remember playing Skyrim and occasionally NPCs would ask my character about his past and it allowed me to choose a response. They were brief, but I like that I was able to fill in the blanks while playing the game. It looks like you ran into an instance where the game and the narrative are telling different stories with the disparity behind your character’s abilities.

    Now that I think about it, two of my favorite RPGs of all time, Planescape: Torment and Dark Souls have strange design choices regarding the main character when you consider where they originated. Planescape: Torment is a Western RPG that has you controlling an established character with an extensive backstory. Conversely, Dark Souls is an Eastern action-RPG which has you assume the role of a character you create with only vague hints of a backstory. It’s a little ironic considering that it’s usually the other way around when it comes to Western and Eastern design philosophies.

    • You know, so many video game problems can be boiled down to that; having an idea but not going full tilt with it. And yeah, that’s the case here. If the game had more to do with me being a lawyer, if that had more relevance to the story and my character, I’d have a lot easier of a time accepting it. As it is, just popping up very occasionally as an offhand mention, it feels more like there’s dissonance between the story I’m trying to absorb and the story the game’s trying to tell.

      I think Dragon Age Inquisition might be an interesting case study. It does give your character an established backstory, but it does let you determine the specifics of your backstory and how your character feels about it through dialogue options, much like Skyrim did. It handled the half and half between established and player-guided backstory a lot better that Fallout 4 did, probably because it was a lot clearer with the distinction and where it wanted the player to input their own work than the latest Fallout.

      Man, I still need to give Planescape: Torment a try. I did pick up the game after your post on it, but it’s not quite made it to the top of my playlist yet.

      • I may have to give Dragon Age: Inquisition a try at some point. I heard that some people consider it the strongest game in the series.

        Ah, I’m glad you’ve decided to give Planescape: Torment a chance. I hope you end up enjoying it!

      • Actually, if I may ask, have there been any other instances you can think of where the developers not going full tilt with their ideas really became problematic for the story (or the gameplay)?

      • Well, the first game that comes to mind is one of the ones I’m currently playing through, Sleeping Dogs. That game laid the groundwork for a really intriguing personal conflict, where your main character is an undercover cop infiltrating a Triad gang that he has some history with, who are competing against another gang he already has a grudge against. They play up the competing interests you’re working under both in story, with some of your character’s conversations with other NPCs who aren’t part of either world, and in gameplay, where you have different skill trees for police skills and Triad skills, and earn experience for them in different ways. The game muddles the line between police and Triad interests in a few interesting ways, such as escalating things to the point where you pretty much have to get more brutal because that’s the only way to convince the rest of your gang that you aren’t a cop, and having some skills in the tree actually fit better under the opposite philosophy, such as the police tree making easier to get guns and steal cars, and the Triad tree giving you some more defensive skills.

        Eventually, they really raise the stakes by having your character just go off the deep end and become way more incorporated into Triad business than he is police. There comes a point where a lot of the fighting options and resources available to you are much more violent, your character stops using his Triad connections to covertly affect police business and starts doing the opposite, gets to the point where he’s murdering people and hiding it, and is actively making close personal connections in the Triad world while distancing himself from his police work. The guy ends up being much more committed to advancing his gang than taking it down, as he’s supposed to. There’s a lot of really good, exploratory ways you could have advanced the story from here.

        Instead, the developers mostly just let it drop. After that point, the conflict’s all between factions of the gang, then once that’s resolved it’s his gang against a corrupt police officer, then once that’s over he’s back in the police like nothing ever happened. There’s no confrontation of the fact that he got way, Wei too involved in the Triad, no dealing with the fact that he killed a lot of people, including delivering some of them to be tortured, no recognition that he was leading a crime syndicate, with all that entails, well outside the reasonable bounds of the operation he was a part of. It was like they had a writer who had this really interesting story going about this conflict your character is facing within himself, and losing himself off the deep end, but the writer was let go two thirds of the way through and the shmuck they got to replace him just didn’t care about it. The story had a lot of problems in the way it was delivered, but that’s probably my biggest issue with the content itself, that they had all this built up, but nothing came of it.

        How about yourself? Got any good examples where a game just lost you by not following through?

      • I’d say that all three of the games I touched upon in my “Start Strong, End Strong” essay (with the possible exception of System Shock 2) were examples of stories not following through with the tropes they employed (the audiolog was a case of the authors backpedaling when tasked with creating a morally ambiguous situation, for example). One point I didn’t really touch upon when I was discussing Mother 3 was how one of the plot threads amounted to nothing. Early on, the game introduced an artifact of great importance and around the halfway point, a big deal is made about not letting it fall into the hands of evil. In the final chapter, it’s revealed what the artifact is, but it never actually plays a significant role in the endgame, leaving me to wonder what the point was in making such a fuss about it in the first place. It has importance in the backstory, but in gameplay terms, it felt like a red herring. The only reason I didn’t mention it in my review or that essay was because I couldn’t fit it in without disrupting the flow, but it’s interesting because as often as the Chekhov’s Gun trope is played straight in JRPGs (or games in general, really), it comes across as more jarring than avant-garde when they decided to put a twist on that particular formula.

        Another example I can think of is Far Cry 4. It has a genuinely intriguing moral dilemma that runs throughout the entire game concerning the two different people who are clashing against each other for control of the country’s rebel army. One is in favor of traditionalism while the other insists on bringing the country into modernity. They both make excellent points and I found myself questioning my decisions at almost every turn. The problem is that no matter who you picked, the leader will turn out to be a huge jerk and make you wish you hadn’t helped them. Again, it’s a case of the authors attempting moral ambiguity, but failing to make either side likable. Another problem that game had was that it felt like they tried to do the whole character transformation arc that they pulled off in Far Cry 3 with Jason, but with the way Ajay was written, this doesn’t come across so well. It becomes strange when the main antagonist calls him out on his violence because then he’s acting as though Ajay became a monster when in reality, he’s more or less the same as when the game started (or if there is a difference, it’s not as noticeable).

  2. I must be the only person who liked Brotherhood of Steel. It’s actually the game that introduced me to the franchise. I dug that it used the same engine as Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.

    • Objectively, taken outside the Fallout franchise, I’m pretty sure that Brotherhood of Steel is roughly average in quality. I know started hating my time with it less the further I got into the game, and the more I put my whole Fallout fangirlism out of my head. I’m sure it’s a much better game when you don’t have the baggage of the rest of the series going into it.

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