Alright so I have been pleasantly distracted with a new casual game, Fallout Shelter. It is a simple game with a strong central mechanic: survive and build. Like previous build and restock games like Tiny Tower, you control the lives of little people living in a community. You have to plan out what rooms you will build, place workers in those rooms, and protect against the occasional rad roach attack. Like I said–simple.
Though I’m impressed by the design from a mechanic standpoint I was blown away by the non-narrative-narrative it can create. Through small gestures the game emotionally draw you in. This is what sets it apart in the freemium games market.
You start off as the Overseer of a Fallout shelter after a great war (not like “that was great dude” like every had a good time but more like “wow there is like literally nothing left of civilized society left” sort of way). You have a front door, an elevator, and some simple living quarters. Soon you building more space, power plants, water treatment facilities, and an ever deepening elevator shaft.
The game is to keep your vault’s population happy, feed, radiation free, and the lights on. To do this you generate power, serve food, and treat water. Each of these actions require a certain skill. Each dweller, as they are called, has 7 skills that perform those tasks as well as a character level. You have to juggle what your vault needs and what your dwellers are best at. Placing them in the right job will make them happier.
If they aren’t good at anything you might have to train them till they are. Some aren’t ever satisfied with life in the vault. They would rather be out in the waste land hunting ghouls. It’s all about worker placement.
Need more workers? You make and greet more. Placing two members of the opposite sex in a living quarters room together (who aren’t related) will activate an instance in which they get pregnant and have a baby. Traits from both parents come together and their children share their looks and similar base skill layout. If they are related they look around sheepishly and say how nice it is to be with family.
Side note: it got awkward when I had a population skew of mostly ladies. My dweller’s ended up with lots of family time and the vault ended up with a huge population of Stewart’s (Thanks John).
All this is the easy part. What makes Shelter so hard is the dangers of the waste land. Rad roaches, raiders, and the occasional vault fire all pose threats to your mini-utopia. Trying to outfit your dwellers with weapons and outfits to protect them is a big task. There is a portion of the game right after you have started but before you have any way of really dealing with it in which any little breech could mean the end of your vault.
So to speak…
Early on in the life of vault 474, we had a rad roach attack. I was pushing our water treatment facility too hard to keep up their production. There is a special action called RUSH that lets you speed up production with a risk of failure. We failed.
A rad roach attack means little bugs enter the vault and hurt your dwellers. If not treated fast enough then they spread to a new room. By the time I thought I had taken care of the issue I found out that half my vault was dead. After a while the bugs just left.
Being dead isn’t the end of the world however. You can revive dead dwellers by paying caps (in game currency). You get caps from completing production, wandering the waste, or from lunch boxes (gained by completing achievements or with real world money). I began resurrecting people but soon ran out of cash. So I kept working. Then the lights in the lower levels began blinking out. Then the dead all vanished. Turns out there is a clock on how long a body can sit before it blinks out too.
My vault, shrouded in darkness and death was just another lonely sad story of the wasteland waiting for a protagonist to run by and loot it (being only lightly defended by Stewart’s).
Slowly we rebuilt. Since then I have ran a tight ship. Everyone gets armed and stays armed. Everyone has a buddy–no loners. Everyone gets training. Since then I haven’t had any extinction level incidents. But the experience has changed how I see gaming.
At first it seemed light. Put people in rooms, click when done. But after placing people you begin to learn their names. You imagine their friendships and family lives. You become invested in their digital lives. When they got hurt it felt personal. I wanted to make their lives better. I wanted to protect them. It was weird but for a game this casual it really struck hard and deep to connect with me as a player.
This is something I want to work into my own games. The mechanics important of course but an emotional investment fills the work with urgency I haven’t felt often in games in general much less a worker placement. I think this is what creates the addiction to keep playing every day, before bed, when I’m waking up, in the bathroom–I feel obligated to keep up with their lives.
If you make it through the early game then the mid to endgame content seems too easy. Much like Fallout 3 once you make your stats, there isn’t a lot that can stand up to you. The monsters don’t really get any harder. Once you have at least two armed dwellers in every work space then fires, roaches, and bandits aren’t terrible. If you get a rare weapon or a rare character then you really don’t have anything to worry about. My vault now keeps the general happiness over 90% all the time and it’s only rising now.
This seems like a balance issue. It would be nice to have more simple or easy early problems but still have the possibility for tougher problems later on. Maybe rad scorpions or super mutant attack? Or what about a reactor meltdown? A broken water chip maybe? Something to leave in the spice of cruel death.
And as it has been stated before–it is just plain icky that pregnant ladies run screaming with their hands in the air for any problems in the vault. My thought–it would be more interesting that no matter the gender, status, or other characteristics if each dweller had a bravery trait. Certain dwellers just wouldn’t fight and would scream during an incident and some would stand their ground. The task then for the overseer is figuring out who needs to be together or apart to defend the vault. Maybe cowards perform better at their jobs as incentive to not–how do I put this? Make them take the “Long Walk.”
That said–this is pretty incredible for a freemium game. To pack so much into such a tiny package is impressive. For me–I’m hooked.
Now for the Elder Scrolls themed version–right guys? Come on! Elder Scrolls Hold or something… Keep? Thane? CALL ME!
UPDATE: 08/19/15 –Bethesda, what I said was wrong and I’m sorry. A naked mole rat infestation hit me just after the new update. I stand by it being a good decision to add more monsters–but the fear is back. Oh, the fear is back in Vault 474. Thank you.