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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]
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?
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.)
The original Fallout was a gamble that paid off big-time; it set in place a tone, gameplay philosophy and fiction that is still going strong today. Fallout games are best known for their evocative, funny, dark and violent post-apocalyptic world. But it could have been another kind of game entirely.
In a Fallout post-mortem at the Game Developers Conference, Tim Cain, the producer, designer and lead programmer described an alternate version of the game's story that could have come to be a reality.
"You started in the modern world," Cain said. "You traveled back in time, you killed the monkey that would evolve into humans, you went through space travel, you went to the future, which was ruled by dinosaurs, you were exiled to a fantasy planet where magic took you back to the original timeline that you restored to full, and came back to the modern world to save your girlfriend."
Okay, so. As much as I love the idea of a fantasy planet that magically returns things to how they were, allowing you to save your girlfriend, I think my favorite part about this is that you "killed the monkey that evolved into humans." What?
"It's weird to hear me talk about it now," Cain said, "but we really were going to go with this. And I think one of the other producers kinda slapped me and said, 'There's no way you're going to get this storyline made, it's not going to get through, you could work on it for years and no one would ever do it.'
"I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we had done this game, and believe Scott Campbell may have it written down somewhere. I'd love to see it, to see what we thought was cool eighteen years ago."
Well dang, I would love to see that too. I'm glad that Fallout exists and everything, but I'd also like to see what the guys who made it would have done with a time-traveling Dinosaur story.
Some other notes from the talk:
For those whose first foray into Tamriel came this year with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the series' maker will offer the preceding entry, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion combined with another outstanding role-playing game, Fallout 3. The combo will be $29.99 on Xbox 360, $19.99 on PC in March.
What about PS3? Bethesda Game Studios' Pete Hines told Joystiq that they aren't allowed to release the combo for that console yet. "We will continue to work to try to change that," he said. "but at present it is still not approved. We would like to release a PS3 version a well."
Not Jenn Frank, anyway, who was kind enough to remind me of this video by YouTuber ElevateYourLevel, which remixes... well... dude, am I really going to explain what the video is to you? No. Maybe you've already heard it. But hey, this is Kotaku Melodic, and we like to listen to stuff! So let's listen again.
Tunnel Snakes rule!
We're the Tunnel Snakes!
And we Rule!
I think I speak for everyone when I say: Yeah you guys rule!
If you have a pulse, this track will make you want to put on a leather jacket (be sure to slide it under your Pip-Boy!), take to the vault hallways, and dance, dance, dance.
Did you forego picking up Fallout: New Vegas and its downloadable content in the hopes that Bethesda would release some sort of Ultimate Edition featuring everything rolled into one? Then February 7 (10 in Europe) is your day to reap your patience's reward.
As someone that only played about an hour of Fallout: New Vegas, I am looking forward to being able to run to the store and snag a DLC-complete copy for $49.99 ($39.99 PC) on February 7. No fuss, no muss; just one disc packed with post-apocalyptic goodness waiting for me to happen to it.
Did you wait?