Emil Pagliarulo on Writing for Fallout 4

Discussion in 'Fallout 4' started by Mellow Mute, Apr 10, 2017.

  1. Mellow Mute

    Mellow Mute First time out of the vault

    Apr 10, 2017
    First off, greetings to all of my fellow mutes. I know the world can be a difficult place for people like us, but we must persevere and continue to live in the shadows in these trying times. We have been through so much, we have suffered many losses.

    Today we are to talk about a man who, with the power of his words, has done more damage to us and what we stand for than anybody else. His name, Emil Pagliarulo.

    I stumbled on this video a few days ago. I should probably clarify that I hold no good feelings about the presenter in this particular conference. I think he is a talentless hack who has somehow managed to remain responsible for leading the writing of one of the oldest and most beloved franchises in gaming. A man who is in my opinion either completely delusional, finding pride in the achievements of others and riding on their success, or a very good liar who secretly hates himself and his job. This is just my opinion and even though it seems to be the opinion of most people who have tried to find out more about this person's work, I am certain there are people who will disagree with me.

    Regardless, I forced myself to listen through a conference on the writing of Fallout 4 by him. I admit I walked in completely biased, but I was genuinely interested to see his approach in the making of the story of Fallout 4. I am now sharing this video with you to discuss that, not our shared hatred towards this person or your disapproval of my statements on his talent. I think this video can serve as the foundation for a discussion on the writing of Fallout 4. If you believe that the story in Fallout 4 was executed well and this conference supports your opinion, I would also like to hear from you.

    * * *

    I have saved you from listening the first half in which he references movies and books which have inspired his work. In short, he brought up many great works of art without interpreting them in any way or even explaining how he took those concepts and adapted them in his own stories. I got the impression that he either lacked the understanding of those works or was unable to use that knowledge in his own work. (at least he never explained that process) He contradicts himself by saying that many of the greatest stories have overarching themes and he gives examples of such works, but then he goes on to give the advice to the audience to "keep their stories simple". He then describes Skyrim's story as "messiah" and "dragons" and Fallout 4's story as "androids" and "looking for your son".

    This advice leads to an explanation of the philosophy at BGS and their motto:

    Great games are played, not made.

    Personally, I believe this motto holds little meaning and can be applied to about anything in entertainment. Great games are well made, including well written. Any game can be played, but not any game is great. If a game is well made, it will be played. I can't remember how many times Bethesda PR and their loyal fanatics have brought up "average play time", "size of the game world" and "value for game time". In their mind "great games" seems to be equivalent to "big games" and they have used that as their biggest selling point, always happy to present their products in the idealistic image of a game that can be played forever.

    It's only logical that this philosophy should affect the writing of their games as well. Pagliarulo explains that he could have created "a great American novel", but no one would have appreciated it because of all of the other means of "entertainment" that the game has to offer. (gives example of settlement building and collectables) Frankly, I find this attitude disrespectful. Disrespectful to my intelligence, to suggest that I would ignore a good piece of writing in favor of a repetitive game mechanic. Disrespectful to me as a fan of the franchise, to suggest that it is expected from a Fallout game to revolve around scavenging and building settlements.

    However, that argument was made to support his original statement: that the stories in games should be so insignificant, so easily molded into any shape that compliments the rest of the game. He shows many pictures of cosplayers in his attempt to convince us that the player character is the most important piece in all of their stories which should always revolve around them. I understand that for many players, throwing them in a huge open world and allowing them to explore, scavenge and shoot their way through waves of interchangeable generic enemies is more than enough. Even I like to switch off my brain sometimes and indulge myself in exploring these vast worlds that Bethesda have become so good at shaping. What I do not understand is why Emil Pagliarulo, the lead writer for that game, is taking any credit for the experiences that might result from the work of his colleagues or the haphazard unscripted events that players might experience. Bethesda have spoken many times about the strengths of working in a team, but in this case I believe that they have become ignorant. I can't help but think that their most recent games have been developed in a bubble where any past experience is thrown away in favor of reinventing the wheel every single time. The success of one aspect of their games seems to become a reason for celebration and pride for everyone in the team.

    He goes on to discuss the importance of player interaction and how important it was for them to improve on the dialogue system from past games. Then they show images of keyboards and controllers... The best improvement on player interaction that the lead writer of Fallout 4 could come up was making the choice of a dialogue option intuitive, taking inspiration from Mass Effect and TellTale games. Again, this was most likely not suggested by him. UI design is usually not done by lead writers. He just went with the decision made by another department, without any consideration of the effect it might have on his work. Unless he thought that restricting the dialogue to four flavors of the same response would make his job easier.

    Similarly, he presents the idea of a voiced protagonist as something "they had to do". It was his job, his responsibility as an artist, to question that decision. Obviously, he doesn't forget to boast about the one hundred thousand or whatever stupid number of lines of voiced dialogue that resulted from this decision. Once again, quantity over quality. For Bethesda 100 000 lines of dialogue and 40 000 lines for the main character means good player interaction. So does restricting the player to an emotional story about "finding your son", as he describes Fallout 4. The truth is far from that, when you consider that those 40 000 lines are 4 iterations of the same 10 000 lines of canned dialogue with little to no "interaction". That is followed by an example of players skipping dialogue, which he learnt to accept and that resulted in being able to leave a dialogue whenever you want in Fallout 4. Instead of challenging the writing team to create interesting stories that no sensible person would want to skip, he provides an alternative to the people who have bought the game to shoot, loot, repeat. Not only that, he treats this as a means of player interaction and takes credit for it. No writer for a role playing game should be content with relying on the entertainment that comes from other departments' work.

    Anyway, I feel I have gone on for too long. In fact, I would be surprised if anyone has made it this far into my post. Let's have a discussion on this conference. I have expressed my opinion, but some of you might disagree with me. Do you think there are advantages to the changes in Fallout 4? Do you agree with the statements made by Pagliarulo?
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  2. Norzan

    Norzan So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Apr 7, 2017
    Adding voice acting to your character was probably the stupidest thing they did in Fallout 4 (and that's saying a lot). Imagining the voice of my character is probably one of the most fun things i can do in a Fallout game, but the developers decided to fuck that up by adding their own voice.
  3. Black Angel

    Black Angel Grand Inquisitor of the Ordo Hereticus

    Mar 21, 2016

    Anyway, haven't actually watched the video nor reading the entire post since I'm sleepy right now.

    Edit: Alright, actually went on to read the whole post anyway. I don't know who you are, sir/lady, but you seemed like a gentlemen/lady. I salute you

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
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  4. naossano

    naossano So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Oct 19, 2006
    Beth games are sold, not made.
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  5. Jogre

    Jogre So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Oct 25, 2015
    This is probably the only video on YouTube where the like/dislike ratio is exactly as it should be.
    • [Like] [Like] x 1
  6. Kohno

    Kohno Water Chip? Been There, Done That

    Jul 30, 2009
    Here's Pete Playing Fallout:

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  7. Jogre

    Jogre So Old I'm Losing Radiation Signs

    Oct 25, 2015
  8. Millim

    Millim Venerable Relic of the Wastes
    Orderite [REDACTED]

    Oct 13, 2010
    So I've been replaying Fallout a lot recently (I'm about 30 hours in) and there are good things in the game.

    It's just annoying that the main quest is the biggest waste of potential.

    There's a few strong points, but they are overshadowed by the weak points (like the opening, the ending and the overabundance of radiant quests).

    The while thing feels like a game that could have been something, but lacks any kind of soul.

    It's 50/50 in terms of quality for me. There's a solid FPS with pretty decent crafting mechanics in a poor fallout game that just sort of stops before it even begins.
  9. Mellow Mute

    Mellow Mute First time out of the vault

    Apr 10, 2017
    Yeah, it's a damned shame. I think visually Fallout 4 is a really solid game and thematically it definitely feels "Fallout". I have to give credit to Bethesda's environmental artists who did a phenomenal job. The combat and animations were vastly improved too. Unfortunately, I was constantly let down by flat characters, lack of significant choices and plot holes. The focus on this new questionable settlement system also didn't help to make this game any more immersive for me, as it ultimately lead to enemy infested capture points instead of fleshed out settlements with NPCs you can relate to and interact with.

    Even the themes in the main story appeal to me. I love movies and books about the existential question of what it means to be human. I just think this concept was only borrowed from other places and used in a very shallow way, again, due to the lack of writing talent at Bethesda currently. Ghost in the Shell and, more recently, Westworld, did a much better job at using that concept and developing a narrative from it. It has been too long since Bethesda had the talent to pull off writing a good story that could come close to those two or any of the precedents that Pagliarulo presented in the conference.

    I remember playing Morrowind for the first time and spending hours reading the lore books and the information that NPCs had about the world. Bethesda weren't so concerned about players skipping dialogue back then. Even if the game barely had any voice acting, it did a much better job at creating an interesting and vast world through its visuals and dialogue. I was more content on reading boxes of text back then (and mind you that was younger me with little knowledge in English, constantly having to alt-tab to check the meaning of words in SADictionary :D) than I ever was listening to the dialogue delivered by any of the characters in Fallout 4.
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2017
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  10. Mellow Mute

    Mellow Mute First time out of the vault

    Apr 10, 2017
    I think many of the problems of Fallout 4 can be avoided in the next game which will inevitably be released eventually, if they replace their entire writing team and involve a new team of talented writers in the development process form the beginning.

    If you listen to the conference, you will learn that most of the quests in Fallout 4 were done in complete isolation, and not even necessarily by the writers. He presents the creation kit as this magical tool that can virtually be used by anyone to create quests in a role playing game. He explains how developers at Bethesda, environmental artists and other designers included, not professional writers, used those tools to create quests and then "tested them in the game to see if they are fun". That's how you end up with quests like the one where you tell a cat to go home or the kid in the fridge quest, I suppose.

    It's unacceptable for a relatively small company which gained such great profit, both from Skyrim and Fallout 4, to keep using their archaic engine and not to expand their team and hire new writers. Their refusal to expand due to work relationships is nothing but an excuse at this point. It's beyond me how the same team who has been spending years developing a single game, and not always to great results, is now working on 7 different projects. Let's say I am very skeptical about the legitimacy of these "projects".
  11. ThatZenoGuy

    ThatZenoGuy Residential Zealous Evolved Nano Organism

    Nov 8, 2016
    The main issues of Fallout 4 stem even from the gameplay and mechanics itself.

    And it's NOT going to get better.

    Bethesda games have been getting dumber with each release.

    In terms of mechanical complexity.

    Morrowing>Oblivion>Fallout 3>Skyrim>Fallout 4.

    Fallout 5 will be simpler still.

    Fallout 4, with some changes here and there, could be a passable 'game', but it'd never be a good fallout game.

    It has its strongpoints, and I admittedly like the smooth gunplay, but fuck its a piece of shit like borderlands when it comes to balance (Stupid enemy HP values and DR).
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  12. Mellow Mute

    Mellow Mute First time out of the vault

    Apr 10, 2017
    I suspect you are talking about the mechanics tied to character progression, which have been gradually "streamlined" over the years to such an extend that now almost every player build feels and plays the same.

    In terms of other systems, however, I think the mechanics have been developed since Morrowind. I welcome some of the changes, like the improved, much more realistic and robust shooting mechanics. I detest others, like the new item "enchantments" (I call them that because they were simply translated from the TES games) making your guns magically duplicate and shoot two bullets or making a piece of leather armor make you invisible when you stand still.

    Both of these examples are of mechanics which were developed from the previous games, but one of them improves player immersion, because shooting a gun in a FPS should give you the visual and sound feedback that makes it realistic and believable, while the other was made to compliment a core game loop at the cost of realism.

    We could also look at mechanics tied to character progression, like perks:
    In New Vegas many of the perks and traits reinforce the role playing experience. Perks like Wild Wasteland allow you to witness illogical events during your playthrough. Thematically, this mechanics is sound, because you get shot in the head in the beginning of the game. Any unrealistic, wacky events could therefore be the result of this trauma and exist only in the imagination of the PC.

    On the other hand, Fallout 4 introduced perks which were only based around gameplay, reflecting bullets, teleporting for a melee attack, breathing under water. None of these "superpowers" are explained in any way. They were added to reinforce the core game loop without any consideration about the effects they will have on the narrative of the game.

    Decisions like these make me think that the different departments at Bethsda work in complete isolation. Involving a team of writers from the beginning could help with that. Game mechanics and writing should not work against each other. They should be developed in consideration of one another and they should reinforce each other. Wild Wasteland is an example of a mechanic which was developed to contribute to the narrative. All of the wacky "superpower" perks in Fallout 4 are examples of mechanics which were developed in complete disregard of the narrative. I highly doubt that Emil Pagliarulo even knows about the existence of these perks, because his involvement in their design seems to be non-existent.
  13. ThatZenoGuy

    ThatZenoGuy Residential Zealous Evolved Nano Organism

    Nov 8, 2016
    Morrowind magic=Jesus fucking christ there are so many spells, make your own spells, MAGIC IS POWER.

    Oblivion=Kinda the same, not as powerful...

    Skyrim=What's magic?

    Morrowind=Spears! Axes! Hammers! All with their own skills and shit!

    Oblivion=I heard you liked swords and hammers, what other weapons exist?

    Skyrim=Just use axes you fucking twat, the bleeding perk is the best.

    Morrowind=Heaps of armour pieces! Legendary and hard to obtain items with unique enchantments and shit, argonians/furries can't use boots and full helmets because they're fucking furries.

    Oblivion=I heard you like bandits in daedric armour when you level up enough. At least we have some unique shit...

    Skyrim=Literally not a single unique item, everything can be made to suit any purpose, and anything unique is level scaled so it'll be useless within a few hours of gameplay.


    Oblivion=Quite a lot...Where did most of them go?


    Morrowind=You have killed a main character, the quest is now broken...Although you can still go and beat the shit out of the boss if you know what to do.

    Oblivion=*X quest giver has been knocked unconscious!*

    Skyrim=HAHAHAHA, you thought we'd actually give you choice?
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  14. CerberusGate

    CerberusGate I should save my game in a whole new slot

    Jun 6, 2016
    Plus that adds a lot of role-play value like for instance:
    Since the Courier was malnourished as a child, he developed a Small Frame and because of his need for glasses, the children often teased him by calling him Four Eyes. As a result, he learnt how to charm people to avoid fights and learnt how to sneak around places while being faster than others to avoid being hit since his smaller frame would not be able to take the punishment.

    With those two perks, I can feasibly create a background for a Courier with such perks.

    4's does not allow for that. Unless it involves being dipped into a vat of mutagen and nano-machines.

    I miss Morrowind.
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  15. Risewild

    Risewild Antediluvian as Feck
    Modder Orderite

    Jun 14, 2014
    No one's stopping you from playing it again ;-).
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  16. CerberusGate

    CerberusGate I should save my game in a whole new slot

    Jun 6, 2016
    I still do. Though I wish I had more time since Persona 5's out and all.
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  17. ThatZenoGuy

    ThatZenoGuy Residential Zealous Evolved Nano Organism

    Nov 8, 2016



    The fucking things apparently ate all the dragons.
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  18. Kohno

    Kohno Water Chip? Been There, Done That

    Jul 30, 2009
    Morrowind's still better than anything Bethesda has done since. And the hatred of cliffracers is overdone.
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  19. ThatZenoGuy

    ThatZenoGuy Residential Zealous Evolved Nano Organism

    Nov 8, 2016
    Cliff Racers ARE annoying though...

    The noises they make, their annoyingly slow descent, their agro range and swarming...

    They're weak, but they're as annoying as cave rats in Fallout, times 3.
  20. 0wing

    0wing Все умрут, а я волномут

    Mar 23, 2015

    The day Bethesda went on Xbox territory with Morrowind was the point of no return. Oblivion and so forth proves that simplification is only an iterative process of stripping down the RP system components.