Fallout 4 Review

First, a word on the previous two installments in the modern Fallout era: Fallout 3 and New Vegas. I enjoyed the quests and gameplay of NV over FO3, but I like the Capital Wasteland envrionment of FO3 better. The bombed out buildings and underground warrens felt more post-apocalytpic than the endless desert of the Mojave (I did LOVE the environment of the Honest Hearts DLC, though). I played both games multiple times, and at least once each completely unmodded (a real challenge on New Vegas, due to all the bugs; it wasn’t until my third modded playthrough that I actually got Veronica’s quest to work; my first game she got stuck and wouldn’t move at all, EVER). Still, I played the heck out of both of them, racking up over two hundred hours of play time on each game (over 400 hours on Skyrim, though, between 3 playthroughs).

I’ll try to avoid spoilers, though there may be a few (particularly about the opening). I haven’t played through the entire game yet, so I can’t speak to the ending. I do know you can continue playing after the ending, however, so it can’t possibly as bad as the original ending to FO3.

Fallout 4, the latest entry in the post-apocalyptic RPG series by Bethesda, starts off suitably bleak with you the Sole Survivor of Vault 111. Technically, that’s not true; you start off in 2077 before the war, and get to see a slice of life in the final days as you and your spouse plan your day with your infant offspring. The war comes to Boston and as fiery mushrooms sprout on the horizon, you race to Vault 111. Fade to black and when you come to, you are the Sole Survivor… sort of; your infant survives, too, and is kidnapped before you can free yourself from the cryogenic tube in which you’ve spent the last 200 years. Yes, Vault-Tec is back to its morally questionable antics with non-consensual experiments on its residents.

Thus begins the Main Quest: GIVE ME BACK MY SON! (Confession: I made a male character, so I don’t know if your child is a girl if you choose a female protagonist). It would be appropriate to make your character look like either Mel Gibson or Liam Neeson, and the robust character creator (which is similar, yet more detailed than Elder Scrolls Online’s character creator) allows creative and patient players to do just that. SPECIAL is still there, but skills are gone and you’re allowed to put a point into perks at each level (or level up a SPECIAL attribute; your choice). I hear there’s no level cap, so there’s plenty to go around (in fact, I understand in order to max out at 10 in all attributes and every perk (most, if not all, perks have multiple levels now), you’ll have to be over level 220). This makes it really hard to gimp your character by creating an energy weapons guy, then find out there aren’t very many at all in the first 1/3rd of the game (New Vegas, I’m looking at you).

That being said, rushing headlong into every fight thinking you can FPS your way to victory is a bad idea. It’s easy to get carried away exploring and wander in an area that’s far too dangerous for a fresh-out-of-the-Vault dweller. Power Armor makes a comeback, though, and with great power comes great responsibility, i.e. the responsibility to make sure you have enough fusion cores, because power armor actually uses power this time around. It’s also customizable if you’ve scavenged the right materials, so you can pimp it out and make it your own. Weapons and armor come in different flavors now, so they can be found with special qualities, similar to the weapons in the Borderlands series. While it’s pretty awesome to find a shotgun that fires exploding ammo from a game play perspective, it does take me out of the game a bit, because it just doesn’t feel real. That’s a minor quibble, though, because you can still mod those weapons and make them more awesome. You can’t break them down for scrap, though, so if you don’t want a particular legendary weapon, just pawn it off to your companion or sell it.

Intrepid Report Piper is making some stimpacks in the background.

Intrepid Report Piper is making some stimpacks in the background.

Fallout 4 is a scavenger’s delight and by the same token, the Settlement Building mini-game is an OCD packrat’s worst nightmare. You’re probably already in the habit of taking everything that isn’t nailed down. While you will immediately have a use for it (most things can be scrapped for parts), you can easily spend hours at a time building up your settlements. In theory, you could spend quite a lot of time doing nothing but. Too bad the controls are a little funky, a situation that will be modded on the PC, I’m sure.

Speaking of controls, Bethesda has committed the cardinal sin of screwing with keybinding. Some baffling choices have been hardcoded into the game. For example, melee and grenades are bound to the same key and cannot be separated. Rebinding the movement keys removes your ability to move around in Workshop mode, making building settlements such a huge pain-in-the-butt, that it is no longer something you’ll want to spend time on. If you’re not a leftie and are comfortable with a controller or the WASD default set up, this won’t be a bother. I’m a leftie though, and WASD is very uncomfortable for long periods of time. Breaking the interface when reassigning keys is extremely irritating (ME3 did this, too). I know WHY this is: it’s easier to design one control scheme shared across Xbox One, PS4, and PC than it is to design multiple control schemes that play to the strengths of each one. Still, that’s no excuse. It sucks, frankly. Fortunately, some Googling showed me how to install a keybind applet that resides in memory and bypasses the game’s keybinding so I can set up my preferences without breaking the interface too much (it’s NOT a mod for the game, so it doesn’t interfere with quests in any fashion). I can’t use the workshop menu at all with that script, though. I’m not sure which solution is better. The script is easier to disable when I do want to work on my settlements. I shouldn’t have to do that fiddle with these things to have a playable experience, though.

On the plus side, the game is playable. It is, in fact, the most stable Bethesda game I’ve ever played at launch. I didn’t come into Skyrim until several months (at least 6) after launch, so I can’t speak to it, but I remember the absolute nightmare FO3 could be (and NV was worse, but that was an Obsidian game built on Bethesda’s engine). Of course, WHY game publishers get away with releasing such buggy software could be a whole essay in and of itself, and I won’t get into that here.

Ain't he cute?

Ain’t he cute?

In addition to the stability, the companions are the most well-rounded of any Bethesda game, to date. They have personalities and quests, and romance options more in depth than Skyrim’s “I see you have an amulet and I like you well enough, let’s marry!” Many of them have quests of their own for you. One in particular is a source of Radiant Quests, ala Skyrim that you’ll either love or you’ll grow tired of and avoid him (or if you’re on a PC, hunt down a mod to turn off his Radiant Quests). Gone is the faction/Karma system of New Vegas, now your companions judge your actions based on their own philosophies and the rest of the world doesn’t really care if you steal from the raiders who have been shooting at you.

The skeleton tableaus and subtle back story woven throughout the environment is just as strong here as it has been in past installments. Sometimes, these after-the-fact stories are stronger and more engaging than the actual plot. Someone in the Commonwealth certainly likes setting up their teddy bears in odd positions. I found a couple in flagrante delicato, and another trying to read the paper while doing his business, if you get my meaning. In addition, I understand Bostonians find the geography unsettlingly accurate, if a bit compressed, much like D.C. residents did FO3.

Crafting is pretty robust, even putting the settlement building aside. You don’t have to hunt for food recipes, though perks are needed for some of the more advance chems, meds, weapon, and armor mods. In fact, food is pretty awesome, better than stimpacks in many cases. Plus, you get XP for cooking. Save your stimpacks for broken limbs and Dogmeat (if you can stand the whining when he’s injured, he’ll heal quickly, but it’s REALLY realistic and I hate hearing a dog in pain). They didn’t include the ability to craft ammo, though. It makes ammo nearly the most valuable resource in the Commonwealth, especially once you have a strong settlement up and running providing you with clean water and food. You can also rename your modded weapons, so you could have a ripper called “Dr. Teeth” and a gauss rifle called “The Electric Mayhem.” My double-barrel shotgun is called “Nora,” after my character’s wife who was a lawyer before the war. See, she’d give the opposition both barrels in her closing statements, like I do Feral Ghouls, even after I think they’re dead (ESPECIALLY if they look dead). I also modded up a flamethrower and called it “Trogdor the Burninator” and my scooped rifle is AT&T (reach out and touch someone).

The shooter portion of combat is better than it was in FO3 or NV and VATS is still there when you need assistance (and the annoying, darting giant insects are much easier in VATS). You’ll want that assistance when you finally encounter Deathclaws and Super Mutant Suiciders (they give new meaning to the term “Nuclear Football”).

Bethesda has definitely learned in the years since FO3, and probably have taken cues from other games as well. Fallout 4 is challenging and fun and a worthy addition to the Fallout Universe. There’s hundreds of hours of content here and future DLCs will no doubt only serve to strength that. Unfortunately, as much as I praised the companions earlier, some of the interactions with other NPCs is lacking. For example, the first time I encountered a friendly ghoul in the game (which did NOT exist at all for my character just a few days ago), there was no dialog option why this guy was so obviously inhuman; he just just another Bostonian. As I understand it, there are certain friendly ghouls to whom you do have a WTF? reaction the first time you see them, so apparently, I wasn’t supposed to encounter this guy before all the others. So, it’s possibly an oversight, but it was immersion-breaking.

Scenic Diamond City

Scenic Diamond City

If you think it’s a travesty that the Fallout series has moved beyond turn-based isometric games, then Fallout 4 is not going to change your mind. If you liked FO3 and NV, you will likely enjoy Fallout 4. PC gamers are used to Bethesda’s quirks by now and know that a decent game by them can become great with the proper mods. Fallout 4 is already a great game, mod will make it awesome.

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2016: The Year Ahead

So what can you look forward to in 2016?

Most of my time, at least, in the first half of the year, will be devoted to revising and publishing Scars of the Sundering, books 2 and 3: Lament and Salvation. My goal is to have Lament finish for a debut at ConQuesT in Kansas City over Memorial Day and Salvation finished to debut at Gen Con in August.

Finishing and turning in “Burble’s Big Day” will take part of my time in the first quarter, as well.

I plan to write a second World of Calliome short story in 2016, though I don’t know which characters it will feature at this point.

The big project for 2016, as if publishing two full-length novels wasn’t big enough, will be to write the first draft of the next Zack Jackson novel, Zack Jackson & The Secret of Venus. I’ve been developing bits of plot over the last several months and I expect sometime after Lament‘s completion, I’ll kick development into high gear.

2015 threw me a lot of curve balls which affected many of my plans. Malediction was supposed to debut at ConQuesT and I barely finished it in time for Gen Con. I wanted to have all three Scars of the Sundering novels finished by Gen Con so I could start Zack Jackson 4 in 2015.

Obviously that didn’t happen. Here’s hoping 2016 is a little more cooperative, ’cause I don’t have time for nonsense!

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2015 Year in Review

I know, I know: I’m two weeks into 2016 already, so this is a little late. Better late than never, right?

So, what did I accomplish in 2015? I released the first novel of a new fantasy trilogy. Scars of the Sundering, book 1: Malediction sold out at Gen Con. I finished the first drafts for the other two books in the trilogy, as well, Lament and Salvation.

I also wrote (and revised & submitted) a Star Trek short story for the Strange New Worlds contest run by Archway Publishing. If my story, “The Terror Paradox,” is not selected for publication, I will make it available for free here and on my Facebook page.

Finally, I wrote a World of Calliome short story, “Burble’s Big Day,” for inclusion in an anthology to be sold at Gen Con as a joint effort by many of the Author’s Avenue authors. I still need to revise that one, though.

Besides writing, I purchased new character art for several character from the World of Calliome and Zack Jackson novels:

Kale Windsinger

Kale

Delilah

Delilah

Jenny DuBois

Jenny DuBois

Mungus

Mungus

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Gisella the Golden Slayer

Qaliah

Qaliah

The last two, you’ll meet in Scars of the Sundering: Lament. I also got a Kickstarter reward from Stan!: cartoon art of Ryll Bob who made his debut in Zack Jackson & The Cytherean Academy.

Ryll Bob

Ryll Bob

I learned a lot about attending conventions in 2015, mostly what works and what is cost effective. There’s a balance to strike between attendance & housing costs and how much one can sell. Gen Con, for example, can be profitable for me if I don’t have housing costs (ConQuesT, too, for that matter). I don’t have a choice for the latter convention, but I live close enough to downtown Indianapolis that I might be able to wrangle the logistics for a daily commute to Gen Con. Smaller shows, like the Annual Christmas Gift & Hobby Show, come down to knowing your audience. I didn’t have horrible sales at that show, but the table rental price was far too high for the quality of facilities and I lost money. In contrast, a Christmas Bazaar at a local church had a much lower cost ($35 for a table) and I made money, despite a fraction of the sales.

Finally, once again I placed 3rd in Nuvo’s Reader’s Choice Best of Indy in the Best Local Author category. While it’s difficult to compete with someone who has as large a fan base as John Green, I will point out that I am the ONLY fantasy/science-fiction genre author who made the list.

I count that as a win!

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Meet Jenny

jenny07

Art by Tadas Sidlauskas

Here’s another character from my Zack Jackson series, Genevieve “Jenny” DuBois.

Jenny is a Junior Ranger and student at Cytherean Academy, one of the EACs more prestigious schools. Cytherean Academy is on the eponymous aerostat on Venus. (See, breathable air is a lifting gas on Venus. In theory, an aerostat filled with breathable air would float in Venus’s dense atmosphere around 50 km. up, which provides approx. 1 ATM of pressure and livable temperatures, though folks still need protection from the clouds of sulphuric acid.)

She was born and lives (when she’s not attending school) on Messier Habitat in orbit around Mars. Don’t mistake them for Martians, though. Messiers are proud of their French heritage and will let you know it.

She’s pictured with a cloud glider. She’s solo rated and spends downtime at the academy helping Coach Dagon instruct other students, but thus far has resisted joining the school team as she feels it would be too much like work at that point.

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Meet Mungus

So, I’ve commissioned some more character art, this time from my Zack Jackson series.

 

mungus

Art by Tadas Sidlauskas

This is Mungus (more properly, Mungaborrarius, son of Goreborrarius Tonnarvassas, First Warrior of Clan Stonetalon), an Ersidian from my Zack Jackson series. He’s a Junior Ranger in the same troop as Zack, Jenny, and the Valtraxian, Ix. Unlike the others, he still lives on his homeworld; his temper has gotten him kicked out of all the local troops.

The large knife on his back was his grandsire’s. Ersidians once had a proud, honor-obsessed warrior culture to which they still pay lip service. Their braids are their badges of honor. The more story beads woven into their braids, the more honor an Ersidian has. Cutting a braid to give to a friend is a mark of great trust and honor and other Ersidians will leap to the aid of one who carries an Honor Braid. Forcibly cutting an Ersidian’s braids is a gross violation and is punishable by death on Ersid. The Earth-Alpha Centauri Alliance feels this punishment is too harsh for a haircut and won’t extradite criminals to Ersid.

Mungus is an interesting character to include because he doesn’t go to school with the others, so realistically, he only appears in books that take place on annual term-break Junior Ranger trips. In books that take place during the school year, he mostly shows up in long-distance correspondence.

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NaNoWriMo – Week 5 (sort of)

The fifth Sunday! Tomorrow is the last day of NaNoWriMo! If you’ve been hitting your goals, you’ll cruise past 50,000 words tomorrow and you’re darn close today. Heck, if you push yourself, you could be finished today.

If you’ve been writing like a fiend, then you’re probably thinking “Thank goodness!” Maybe you’ve hit your goal for the month already and you’re thinking “I’m finished! This is my day of rest and tomorrow, too!”

Sure, you deserve it. If you plan on doing nothing with your manuscript because NaNoWriMo is just a fun bit of mental exercise, then go have an adult beverage of your choice, if it’s legal, and celebrate.

If you’re planning on trying to sell that manuscript, your work has just begun. For one, a 50,000 word novel is a HARD sell in most genres if you plan on looking for an agent. If you’re going the route of the Author/Publisher, 50,000 is a good length for a quick, light read. Regardless, you’re going to need to edit, revise, and proofread the heck out of it before you even think about charging money for it.

mungusMungus* says: “Don’t even think about charging money for people to read a NaNoWriMo First Draft.”

See, Mungus feels the integrity of an artist’s work is important. When you foist an unedited manuscript (and when I say edited, I mean someone other that you has gone over it with a fine-tooth comb; every writer auto-corrects in their head when they read their own work) upon an unsuspecting public, you do yourself and all independent authors a disservice. People will judge all of us on the actions of the worst of us.

So don’t do it. It will make Mungus angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.

Anyway, that’s not very peppery. That’s serious. Be of good cheer; the end of NaNoWriMo is upon us and soon it will be Christmas (if you celebrate something else, I wish you cheer and good time during your preferred holiday!)! If you’re finished, take December off, believe me, that manuscript will still be there in January.

If you’re going to power through into December and keep writing because 50,000 words in November just isn’t long enough, well, good for you. I’ve done it many times myself. Don’t forget to stop and sip the eggnog every once in a while, though. You’ve done a great job getting through 50,000 words in a month.

Congratulations!

*Mungus is a character in my Zack Jackson novels. He’s an Ersidian and doesn’t like to be compared to a teddy bear, no matter how apt that comparison might be at times.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

RyllBobFactual statement: I am Bob. My friends call me Ryll Bob. It is because I am a Ryll.

Affectionate mocking: They are not very witty.

With sincerity: I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving. There are many thing for which one can be thankful. Friends, family, health. It is my hope you are thankful for all of those things. I am thankful for my friends at Cytherean Academy: Zack Jackson, Jenny DuBois, Dravs, and Xal. There are not many Ryll here and they make life less lonely.

My knowledge of Earth culture is limited. I have never even been to Earth. As I understand it, Thanksgiving, like many holidays on Earth has changed meaning over time as people of different beliefs have appropriated it. For us, in the 43rd century, we see it simply as a time to celebrate the good in our lives and to give thanks for those things. It is a time to put aside differences and grievances and enjoy the time we have together.

With puzzled hesitation: Dravs has told me there is an Earth custom of singing a song for this celebration. I do not know how he knows this, as he is Devoran and generally seems to be ignorant of Earth customs, but he is my friend and I will trust him.

[Error: translator not programmed for harmonizing]: Happy Thanksgiving to you. Earth is a melted zoo. Turkeys hate thanksgiving. But they taste really good.

With great concern: That is not a very good song. It was my understand than it would rhyme more. Dravs may have been pulling a prank on me.

Insincere threat: He will pay for this.

 

Happy Thanksgiving from VFF Publishing!

 

Ryll Bob drawn by Stan! You can read about Ryll Bob and his friends in Zack Jackson & The Cytherean Academy and Zack Jackson & The Hives of Valtra.

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REVIEW – Wolf Tower: The Claidi Journals I by Tanith Lee

Wolf TowerI picked this book up as part of my coursework in my Children’s Literature class mistaking Tanith Lee for another author I had read (obviously, this was some time ago, I’m going to say 10 years now). I’d heard of Tanith Lee, of course, but I was mistaking her for someone else. So, it turns out that I was completely unfamiliar with Mrs. Lee’s work up until now.

I found “Wolf Tower” to be a fun and engaging read. It would be a good start to ease young readers into fantasy fiction as it doesn’t have an epic, world-shattering plot, and the fantastic elements it employs aren’t too weird–they all seem to fit logically within the world Tanith Lee has created. Speaking of which, the world in which the story takes place is not dissimiliar to our own, making it even easier to get into the story without having to learn a bunch of strange geography.

The protagonist, Claidi, is a likeable, if downtrodden, girl who grows emotionally during the story into a likeable young lady. The way she deals with events and other characters is admirable and can serve as a good example for young readers.

The story itself is interesting and Tanith Lee does a fine job keep us guessing as much as Claidi who is really telling the truth, and indeed, what that truth is. The ending is satisfying, yet leaves things open for a continuation of the story, and I found myself wondering “What happens next?”

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NaNoWriMo Week 4!

This is it: the beginning of NaNoWriMo week 4. I know I’m a day late; I was busy writing!
Only 8 days left! If you’re going by strict word count, you should have reached 36,674 words yesterday. But you know, if you are behind, you can still make it. If you’ve only written 5,000 words as of yesterday, you can make it up by writing 5,000 words a day for the rest of the month (including today). Granted, that’s pretty time-consuming, but it’s possible.

The important thing to remember about NaNoWriMo is that it’s a way to help develop the discipline to write every day. Write 2,000 words! Write 200! It doesn’t matter, just get something down. Sure, there are people who use November to crank out a complete story as quickly as possible, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve written something every day and keep doing that even past November, then you’re doing it right.

And if you fail to write 50,000 words in November? So what? The second year I tried NaNoWriMo, I barely got 22,000 words before life got in the way and wrecked my momentum. I keep promising myself I’ll get back to that story someday…

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REVIEW – Twitter for Writers: The Author’s Guide to Tweeting Success (Writer’s Craft Book 8) by Rayne Hall

Twitter for WritersI consider myself a fairly proficient Twitter user. I have two accounts (though I limit myself to @hccummings these days) and well over 35,000 tweets under my belt. So, not everything in this book was news to me, but there was still a fair amount of things Rayne Hall covers that I was unaware of.

If you’re an Author/Publisher or an Author just looking to drum up interest in your novels and you’re thinking about using Twitter, you need this book. It explains what Twitter is, how it works, how to use it, and common pitfalls of using Twitter. Sharing her own mistakes, Rayne Hall distills the pros and cons of Twitter into an easy-to-read guide. And believe me, if you’ve ever followed writers on Twitter, many of them make the very mistakes she covers in this book. Don’t be one of those writers. No one wants a feed full of advertisements.

Using Twitter as a marketing tool is difficult and time-consuming. This book will help you make the most of your limited time and help keep you from being a nuisance on Twitter (it’s really easy to do, and most of us are guilty of at least one of the mistakes Rayne Hall talks about).

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