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Late last year, artist Erling Løken Andersen thought it would be a nice idea to set up a website for his Fallout fan art. It was lovely art, coming in the form of posters based on those found on the walls in Fallout games, and in a nice touch, Andersen even uploaded incredibly high-resolution (and vector!) versions so people could print out their own copies.
Enter DLA Piper, a law firm representing publishers Bethesda, who own the rights to (most of) the Fallout universe. They sent a two-page letter threatening Andersen for having distributed the art, despite the fact he was not charging for it, and that Bethesda does not itself offer such images for sale.
So Andersen sent a very polite, very considered letter back, outlining his case and why DLA Piper's points of contention don't apply to a guy giving away art on the internet. You can read both letters at the link below. The lawyers are yet to respond.
I'm sure DLA Piper are just working off a brief, and this has nothing to do with Bethesda specifically targeting the guy, but still, when you hire a firm to conduct business in your name, it's your name that gets dragged into this kind of petty bullshit.
UPDATE - Those who had grabbed a poster or two before they were taken down say they weren't just close to being replicas of posters found in actual Fallout, they were essentially recreations.
Threatened with lawsuit by Bethesda; This was my reply [Erling Løken Andersen, via NeoGAF]
There has been a resurrection of classic RPGs lately, with Baldur's Gate, Wasteland and Shadowrun all in the news. If this nostalgia is making you hungry for more, GOG has a great deal for you this weekend.
Although GOG recently changed its name to reflect a new retail model of offering newer games, it's nice to see they still cater to us good old gamers.
Music can be a distraction, an unnecessary layer of sound that pulls attention away from a game rather than enhancing it. Sometimes, there's nothing to do but turn the music off.
The first big-budget game that made me turn off the music was Fallout: New Vegas. I played for a handful of hours and found myself feeling smothered by the endless mournful strings and guitars that played as I wandered the wastes. Every time the music would stop, I'd hear the wind in my ears, the chirping of insects. The desolation around me felt palpable; it was a breath of fresh post-apocalypse.
And then, the music would start up again. Endless syrupy strings and mournful guitars.
So, I turned it off. I never play that game with the music on anymore (though I do still listen to the excellent in-game radio stations). In fact, when I go back to Fallout 3, I do the same thing.
I think it's something about open spaces, at least for me. I adore Bill Elm and Woody Jackson's music for Red Dead Redemption, but sometimes I just don't want to hear music in that game. I want to wander the prairie, me and my horse, and take in the fantastic sound design, which I've long thought to be some of the best of all time. The sound design is almost a musical score of its own; and while its interplay with the dynamic music in the game is organic and never feels crowded, sometimes it's cool to just listen to the audio on its own.
(Seriously, I recommend doing that. Even if you haven't played RDR in a while. Boot it up, turn off the music, and put on headphones. Go sit on the prairie, close your eyes, and listen. Notice every sound that comes and goes. It's really cool.)
Sometimes I'd turn off the music in Bioshock and Bioshock 2, as well. As amazing as the music in those games was, there were times where exploring Rapture while taking in the ear-bustingly incredible sound design was enough.
Is it a sin to turn off the music in a game? No. I remember a while back, boss-man Stephen Totilo wrote a thoughtful editorial about how he finally decided to turn off some games' music.
He, too, found himself turning off the music to Red Dead Redemption, though he was doing it to listen to podcasts while playing. I've met a lot of people who do their podcast-listening while playing Minecraft, and while I personally love the music and audio to that game, I can also understand turning it off and listening to other things.
Stephen also mentioned listening to podcasts while playing iPhone games, and there I agree with him as well. A while back, I played an obscene amount of Bookworm for the iPhone, but I found that in very little time, the music made me go a little bonkers. It took me far too long to realize that I could listen to whatever I wanted while I played, particularly as I was playing on a device that held my entire music collection! But rather than any albums I owned, I listened to podcasts.
In difficult action games, I'll find that the music makes it harder for me to focus; in fact, the audio in general can be overwhelming and distracting. When I get stuck on a particularly difficult boss in, say, God of War II or Bayonetta, I often find that the only way I can make it through is to take off my headphones or mute my speakers and play with no or very low audio. Suddenly, things feel far less complicated and I'm able to focus on the task at hand. It's sort of my last-ditch technique for getting past a frustrating boss.
I'm the last guy who would ever make some sort of sweeping generalization about video games not needing music. Music is an essential part of life just as it's an essential part of all of my favorite games. More than any other aspect, is the thing that ties me emotionally to video games in general.
But sometimes, I just need to play without it.
I'm guessing it's not just me, so I'm curious: What games inspire you to turn the music off?
Online PC retailer and CD Projekt affiliate GOG is giving away classic Interplay RPG Fallout for the next 48 hours.
As announced at CD Projekt's Spring Conference earlier today, it's a way of saying thank you to existing customers and a welcome to those checking out the recently revamped site for the first time.
The store also re-stated that it will start offering newer titles in addition to its library of classic games. Indies like Botanicula, from Machinarium developer Amanita Design, will be a focus but there'll be more mainstream fare too, including a premium DRM-free version of the first game in the Assassin's Creed series.
For those developers, he's produced art for games such as Terminator 3 and, awesomely, the Neverhood series. Most recently, he served as art director for Fallout: New Vegas, which meant he was the man responsible for defining the artistic direction of not just the sequel, but its downloadable content as well.
In the gallery above you'll find a selection of his work over the years, both personal and professional, but you can see plenty more at Joseph's personal site.
The Fallout series is a wealth of side-splitting humor, or at least it was until recently. What's amazing is there are little treats like this exchange between a particularly dim-witted Vault Dweller and Vault 13's Overseer that are completely hidden from players until they decide to screw around with their stats.
I used to an incredibly stupid character in my old Dungeons & Dragons campaign: a Barbarian named Thog. Sometimes he referred to himself as Thog the Thog, because he couldn't come up with an appropriate adjective. In retrospect he probably didn't know any.
My interactions with my Dungeon Master (the father of the girl I was dating at the time) played out pretty much like this. To see this level of flexibility in a video game, especially one released nearly 15 years ago—it's inspirational.
Or it should have been.
Last night, Obsidian's Chris Avellone tweeted an interesting detail about his roleplaying game Fallout: New Vegas.
"[Fallout: New Vegas] was a straight payment, no royalties," he said in response to a fan question about the game's financial success. "Only a bonus if we got an 85+ on Metacritic, which we didn't."
Metacritic, an aggregation website that collects scores from selected review sites and compiles them as a weighted average, currently lists the Xbox 360 version of Fallout: New Vegas at 84 (out of 100). The PC version is also listed at 84. The PlayStation 3 version of the game is listed at 82.
In other words, Obsidian may have missed its bonus and lost out on a significant amount of money because of a single point.
We've reached out to New Vegas publisher Bethesda, the company that financed the game, to try to confirm Avellone's statement, but they would not comment. If the New Vegas designer's tweet is accurate, then Bethesda put a portion of Obsidian's financial fate in the hands of a select group of game reviewers.
Finances have been an issue for Obsidian—earlier this week, the independent studio had to let go of 30 staff because a game it had been developing for the next Xbox was cancelled. So a potential Metacritic bonus may have been no small matter.
I understand the logic used by publishers like Bethesda when they dole out bonuses based on Metacritic numbers. As an aggregation of critic review scores, a Metacritic average can be an important benchmark for the perceived quality of a game. And it certainly makes sense that a boss would want to reward its employees based on the quality of their work.
Except Metacritic scores are not objective measures of quality. The Xbox 360 Metacritic page for Fallout: New Vegas consists of 81 reviews. If Obsidian's bonuses were determined by this aggregator, they were not based on the game's quality—they were based on 81 peoples' opinions of the game's quality.
Look through Metacritic's list of critic reviews. The list of selected websites is comprised of both professional and volunteer reviewers. Some write for the web. Others write for print. Some scores are weighted more heavily than others (Metacritic does not publicly discuss the formula it uses to create its averages). Some scores are even treated differently than others—a 7 at Game Informer does not mean the same thing as a 7 at Edge, for example.
Many of the reviews attacked the game for its bugs and glitches, many of which were fixed in subsequent patches and downloadable content packs. While reviewers may have been justified in marking down scores for the buggy product, those scores may not have been relevant after a month, or even after a week. Most review outlets don't change their scores once patches have been released. Is that something Bethesda took into consideration?
There is no such thing as an objectively good game. Nor is there such thing as an objectively bad game. We all secretly hate some games that are beloved by the rest of the world, and everyone has their favorite black sheep. I've strongly disliked some highly-rated games, like Dragon Age 2, and fallen deeply in love with some poorly-rated games, like Suikoden V. Should my personal opinion really be condensed into a mathematical formula and used to decide somebody else's bonus?
At Kotaku, we don't use review scores. Metacritic doesn't count our reviews. What if that made the difference? What if an outlet's choice of reviewer changed everything? What if a developer's bonus was determined by a single person's arbitrary distinction between a 7.8 and a 7.9? What if a game studio faced financial trouble after it missed its bonus by a single point?
This isn't healthy for anybody involved. It's not healthy for a reviewer to have to worry whether his criticism will directly affect peoples' jobs. It's not healthy for developers to focus on pleasing reviewers, rather than pleasing consumers. It's not healthy for individual opinions to impact bonuses and salaries.
Publishers need a better tool for measuring a game's quality. I don't know what that tool is. I don't know that it exists. But using Metacritic to hand out bonuses is dangerous—for developers, reviewers, and, quite frankly, you.
(Disclosure: While working at Wired.com, I gave Fallout: New Vegas a 9/10. My review appears on the game's Metacritic page.)
An early story concept for the first game in the hugely popular Fallout series saw you zipping back and forth in time, traveling through space and battling sentient dinosaurs, creator Tim Cain has revealed.
Speaking at a post-mortem panel at GDC in San Francisco today, Cain explained that the game's story morphed a number of times before its eventual post-apocalyptic setting was settled upon.
At first, it was going to be a traditional Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game.
"A lot of people who came on board said we could do something that's better than D&D - let's put our own twist on that," he recalled.
"We quickly threw that out as there were so many other fantasy games being developed. This is the one choice we made that saved us from being canceled."
Then came something rather more ambitious.
"Our second idea was epic. You started in the modern world, you were thrown back in time, you killed the monkey that would evolve into modern humans, you went through space, you went to the future which was ruled by dinosaurs, you were then exiled to a fantasy planet where magic took you back through the timeline, and then you came back to the modern world to save your girlfriend.
"It's weird even hearing myself talking about it now, but we were really going to go with this. One of the other producers kind of slapped me and said 'there's no way you're ever going to get this story made. You can work on it for years and nobody is ever going to do it'.
Sure enough, Cain and his team scrapped the idea. However, they held on to the extra-terrestrial theme for their next pass. That concept saw aliens invade earth and conquer all but one its cities. The game's hero would then venture out of this safe zone to fight back.
"This is what morphed into Fallout - the idea of a vault that you left and went out into the wasteland," said Cain.
However, getting the game finished and onto shelves proved a very challenging process, with the title nearly axed on a number of separate occasions.
Its first brush with cancellation arose when publisher Interplay picked up the Forgotten Realms and Planescape D&D licenses. Some at the company thought that a new RPG IP might detract from sales of those titles. However, Cain "begged" boss Brian Fargo not to pull the plug and Interplay duly let it live.
It had another close call when Steve Jackson's GURP role playing brand, which Fallout was initially tied into, decided the game was too violent and didn't approve of the art style.
"It was too late to change anything," explained Cain. "I figured we were going to be canceled."
But management gave Cain a last minute reprieve.
"I was asked to write a new combat system. We had a week to design it and a week to code it. If we could do that we wouldn't be canceled. I'm not exactly sure how we did it. I know we drank a lot of soda, we were there all the time, I know we smelled bad too, but we did it."
There was one more shaky moment just before launch. European ratings boards refused to classify the game for release as it allowed the player to kill children.
"We allowed it. We just said it's in the game. If you shoot them it's a huge penalty to karma. You're really disliked, there are places that won't sell to you, there are people that will shoot you on sight. We thought people can decide what they want to do.
"But Europe said no. They wouldn't even sell the game. We didn't have time to redo the quests so we just deleted kids off the disc [for the European release]. The story references children but you never actually see any."
Cain also discussed the struggles the team had coming up with a name for the game. It was originally going to be titled Vault13 but Interplay's marketing team rejected it as it "didn't give any sense of what the game was about."
"They suggested things like Aftermath, Survivor and the wonderfully generic Post Nuclear Adventure," recalled Cain.
"What eventually happened was Brian Fargo took the game home and played it over the weekend. He came back and put the CD on my desk and said 'you should call it Fallout'. It was a brilliant name - it really captured the essence of the game."
And the rest is history. The game launched on PC in 1997 to huge critical and commercial success and a franchise was born.
Cain now works as a senior programmer at Obsidian - the developer behind last year's Fallout: New Vegas.