Valiant’s Fall – Fallout 76 Short Story


Valiant Information and Inventory Management System (V.I.M.S.) now recording.

September 23rd, 2077, approximate time, 0235 hours EST.

Log created by: Technician J. Peters. 

Storage Room B2. Access code: 0 1 0 2 8 8.

Storage B2 Inventory List: three-hundred-seventeen-point-one-five units of recycled water, sixty-five-point-seven-six units of nutrient processor cartridges, seventeen relaxation modules.

Water rerouted to mess hall. Balanced water storage from storage rooms A3 and C5 to maintain precise outer ring rotation. Twelve nutrient processor cartridges to refill Alpha and Epsilon processors checked out. Three relaxation modules checked out.

Actions performed: Access code reset. New password: 1 0 1 0 9 7.

End of log.


October 13th 2077, approximate time, 1152 hours EST.

Log created by: Technician R. McClellen, Technician R. Philips, Engineer L. Richardson.

Airlock C5. Access code: 0 9 3 0 9 8.

Inventory List: Five pressurized E-V-A suits, six E-V-A. oxygen tanks, C5 pressurized oxygen reserves at 87 percent.

Actions performed: extra-vehicular maintenance scheduled for 1238 hours EST. Three E-V-A suits and six E-V-A oxygen tanks checked out.

Inner doors sealed.

Outer doors opened.

Extra-vehicular maintenance on docking clamp Alpha-Delta-Omicron and extending arm performed in six hours, thirteen minutes, 46.22 seconds.

Outer doors sealed.

Inner doors opened.

Three E-V-A suits and six E-V-A oxygen tanks checked in. C5 oxygen reserves at 56 percent.

End of log.


Continual log created by: Commander T. Michaels.

Communications Access Hub A1. Access code: 1 0 2 8 0 8

Inventory List: Hermes Extra-Communications Transmission and Reception (H.E.C.T.O.R.) set to one-forty-five-point-eight-megahurtz. 

Actions Performed: Transmissions sent to U-S-S-A Bloomfield Mission Command, recorded on October 23, 2077 at approximate time, 1812 hours EST.

Message transcripts as follows: “Mission control, this is Commander Michaels, please respond on wavelength one-forty-four-point-four-nine. Partial message received but we were unable to hear through the interference. Control, please repeat message.”


Next message transcription, recorded on October 24, 2077 at approximate time, 0445 hours EST.

“Mission control, this is Commander Michaels, please respond. God, please respond. I’d ask if this is some kind of sick joke, but McClellen and Peters thought they saw lights flashing over the eastern coast yesterday. There’s nothing strong enough to make flashes like that except-

Control, please respond. Setting emergency signal on repeat, will continue to contact.”


Next message transcription, recorded on October 28th 2077, approximate time, 0814 hours EST.

“Mission control, this is Commander Michaels. If you’re hearing this, everyone is becoming quite scared up here. McClellan began to panic yesterday trying to intercept emergency signals, and afterwards spent most of the day pacing on the outer ring trying to keep her mind off of things. Is the resupply mission still scheduled for November 23rd? Repeat, is the resupply scheduled? We really need to hear from you, Control.”


Next message transcription, recorded on November 12th 2077, approximate time, 1238 hours EST.

“Mission control, please tell us you’re listening. We began rationing water on November 5th, and rationing nutrient cartridges on November 10th. Richardson, Philips, Beuren, Jensen and I are staying focused and positive, but Peters is going to run out of antipsychotics in less than two weeks. Control, if you’re still there, we need some kind of confirmation. McClellen confined herself in her quarters two days ago, and no amount of knocking is making her come out. Not even a crowbar worked to force the door. She didn’t change her access code, so she must have shorted it out. I don’t think she has food or water in there. We need good news up here, or the situation is only going to get worse.”


Next message transcription, recorded on December 2nd 2077, approximate time, 1126 hours EST.

“Mission control, this is- God, if you don’t know who I am by now, there’s no point.

America. She can’t be gone. We couldn’t see any lights down there as we passed over. We hadn’t even noticed it before because no one wanted to check.

McClellen is gone. She never came out. Even if she took water in with her, I don’t think she lasted three and a half weeks sealed in there.

Peters is starting to lose it. I knew he joined this crew because of his biological expertise, but he didn’t tell anyone how bad he could get without meds. Philips tried synthesizing something for him, but we just don’t have the chemicals onboard, and we don’t dare make the situation worse with makeshift prescriptions.

Richardson has stopped working and devoted himself to prayer, and Jensen has followed him. Beuren and I are starting to question why we should continue our scientific work. ‘It’s better than diving into the relaxation modules or taking sedatives until the end comes,’ I told him. I don’t think that lifted our spirits much.”


December 24th 2077, approximate time, 1843 hours EST.

Log created by: Technician J. Peters.

Airlock C6. Access code: 1 1 1 0 1 5.

Inventory List: Two pressurized E-V-A suits, four E-V-A. oxygen tanks, C6 pressurized oxygen reserves at 35 percent.

Actions performed: One E-V-A suit and four E-V-A oxygen tanks checked out.

Actions performed: Access code reset. New password: 111418.

Inner doors sealed.

Outer doors opened.

C6 Oxygen reserves at zero percent.

End of log.


Continual log created by: Commander T. Michaels.

Next message transcription, recorded on December 25th 2077, approximate time, 0119 EST.

“Peters spaced himself. And he even changed the door code to lock us out.

Shit.

He’s got ten hours of O2 at best. And worse, I can’t let anyone go out there through another door to try to bring him back. We’ll probably lose whoever goes after him. Two hours ago Peters started acting violent, and near stabbed Beuren with a scalpel. He even got a flying start at him from C corridor. How Beuren avoided it in zero-G, I’m not sure. He was just lucky Jensen and I were in the room at the same time. Four grown men flailing weightless. Can you imagine?

We’re like rats on a sinking ship. We confined him to Storage Room C4, but he obviously found a way out. Then he took the long walk.

Merry fucking Christmas.

Philips used a few of our junk parts and replicated a science experiment that he’d seen back in his graduate days. Rock candy crystals grown in space. Something so simple to lift the mood, and then this happened. I wouldn’t have considered it a month ago, but I think I’m spending this Christmas… and maybe a few days after… with med-X from the med bay and a few packets of sherry from the relaxation modules. It’s not like I can get drunk with this watered-down garbage. But it’s something. Thank God the alcohol rules were changed last year. Sedatives and sherry, coming right up.”


February 4th, 2077, approximate time, 0312 hours EST.

Control Room V.I.M.S. alert.

Log confirmed by: Technician A. Jensen.

Inventory Shortage: Station propellant reserves at two-percent.

Please resupply immediately. Failure will result in station orbit destabilization.

Repeat, please resupply immediately. Failure will result in station orbit destabilization.

Alert confirmed by: Technician A. Jensen and Commander T. Michaels.

End of log.


H.E.C.T.O.R. incoming transmission to Communications Access Hub A1.

Warning: incorrect access code. Overwritten. Received on all functional broadband frequencies. 

Transcription unavailable. Transmission lasted 7.33 seconds.

Actions requested by: Commander T. Michaels

Actions performed: Query all U-S-S-A satellites to pinpoint source of transmission.

Action results: 35 U-S-S-A satellites disconnected from network. Remaining 14 satellites performed shortwave broadcast scan on February 15th, 2078 at 0563 hours EST.

No results.

Source of transmission: unknown.

End of log.


Continual log created by: Commander T. Michaels.

Next message transcription, recorded on March 15th 2078, approximate time, 0212 hours EST.

“Well, that’s it, then. According to estimates, we’ve got seventy-two hours before the station starts feeling the burn. Who knows what made that last transmission. Hell, it could have been aliens for all the good it did us. I suppose it’s a small mercy that the oxygen and the water didn’t run out before the propellant did. Barely. We tried venting the oxygen reserves through the stabilizers, but it only bought us a couple more days, maybe a week. Beyond that, we would have suffocated instead of burned. I don’t know which I would have preferred. I asked the crew if they wanted to be sedated before everything happened. Jensen and Philips agreed, and so did I.

Richardson said the last thing he wanted to do was pray to God with a clear mind, and I have no problem with that. Beuren’s been inside Airlock C7 for a few hours, but I haven’t heard any alerts. Maybe he’s contemplating suicide.

None of us are as strong as Richardson. I know the only reason I was chosen as commander for the last nine months instead of him was because of my flight record. But it’s not like I’m dogfighting pinkos up here. I know this record might not survive re-entry, but it feels like I’m accomplishing one last thing before I’m gone. Hell, I don’t even have a family to say goodbye to. No wife, no kids… I poured everything into my career, and look where I ended up. I guess I’m glad I didn’t have a family for them to die in a world like this. 

All right. Last words, I guess. For Rachel McClellen, Jake Peters, Rob Philips, Lucius Richardson, David Beuren, Aaron Jensen, and Tyson Michaels, this is the last transmission from the crew of the U-S-S-A Valiant Space Station. If anyone is alive down there and listens to this, know that we remained devoted to God and our country. Whenever and wherever you are, keep the spirit of freedom alive. That’s all we can ask.”

End of continual log.

My (Preliminary) 10-Hour Tale – No Man’s Sky

giphy1

“Oh, Mr. Conductor,” I say with exuberance, waving down a man dressed in a bright pink space suit and a tiny blue conductor’s hat. “Does the hype train get off at the next exit, my dear sir?”

“NO,” says the bright pink conductor of the Hype Train in a booming voice that reminds me of the unwavering density and blackness of the vast universe.

“THE HYPE TRAIN NEVER STOPS.”

Chugga-chugga, choo-choo, my friends. Man, very few video games get into the hype levels No Man’s Sky has generated. I didn’t even feel Fallout 4 or Fallout 76 got this much attention, especially considering this is the third such wave of excitement for the 70’s-sci-fi-book-cover space exploration simulator. Even the lead programmer and head of Hello Games had this to say:

sean

Nothing says despair and dread like a lower-case “oh no”.

His reaction is appropriate. At the game’s release in 2016, I bought into the hype train like crazy and spent the full $60 game for something that was very unpolished and most decidedly not multiplayer. This derailed the Hype Train quite badly for a lot of people, leading Steam reviews to put No Man’s Sky at Mostly Negative.

Fortunately, I don’t think Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games has much to worry about anymore with No Man’s Sky’s latest update called NEXT. How big and important was this update? When I downloaded, it came to about 6.7 Gb. Impressive, I thought, for a game that was about that large before the update. But what’s more impressive is what it meant for the originally single-player-only experience: No Man’s Sky is actually multiplayer.

And what’s more? The game looks even more incredible than it did before from both a gameplay and a graphics standpoint.

I mean, look at what the last three days did for No Man’s Sky:

nomans

Wow!

It’s gone from Mostly Negative to Mixed. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a game do that. And that’s 2000 positive reviews more than there were yesterday. I mean, just take a look at the patch notes for NEXT. Hello Games took their sci-fi adventure and flipped it on its head. Base building is nearly infinite, freighter armadas can be purchased and travel the stars with you, and even the basic building materials and recipes have been overhauled to the point where crafting and exploration is now an exciting venture instead of a mindless grind.

Admittedly, I struggled and panicked at the very start of the game; I was dropped onto a very radioactive planet with no ship and three-fourths of my radiation shielding gone, and had no idea what materials I needed to recharge it. I didn’t even have a scanner to search! But panic turns into resolve when you finally get your bearings, and following the mysterious storyline of the Atlas is proving to be very interesting.

There’s finally a reason to upgrade your blaster: biological horrors and sentinels show up in the worst places, and even caves are no longer safe places to hide. You’ll need to refine the raw materials you harvest from the worlds you explore, and refined materials are often more valuable than their components. Oceans are deep enough to fly under (this may be a bug, I’m unsure) and mountains are now continental in height. Artifacts can be found in hidden underground ruins and can sell for millions of credits, incentivizing exploration and discovery in a way the game hadn’t before.

pun

I made a dad joke! Do you get it? 1.3k people did!

With all that said, I did encounter two game-breaking day-one bugs that interrupted my play.

The first was a bug with the main quest; the quest wouldn’t allow me to warp to another system until I fueled my ship with antimatter. I would craft the warp fuel and fuel my hyperdrive only to have the quest reset and send me back for more antimatter. Good news: unlimited fuel. Bad news: no way to use it. I managed to un-bug the quest by purchasing another ship. I imagine it was something to do with the fact that I got a ship with a hyperdrive earlier than the quest assumed I would get one. Interestingly, I had a similar problem with earlier updates of No Man’s Sky.

The second occurred when only partially repairing some systems on my ship. The game didn’t like ‘partial repair’ so much that the next time I loaded my save game, the game initialized on a brand new world as if I’d started a brand new game, with no inventory, no ship, no upgrades, nothing. I fixed this with help from the No Man’s Sky Reddit and editing some junk code from my save file.

As of an hour ago, I’ve learned that both of these issues have been patched out, however. So as far as bugs are concerned, the only ones I’ve stumbled across are gone.

I thought I’d start out on normal mode, but to be honest, creative mode is looking really appealing. Check out this awesome cliffside base by ParagonHex:

I’ve played NEXT for about five hours now, and I have no desire to stop. I’ll have more to share in the coming days, but until then, consider this a tentative but glowing review of No Man’s Sky. I can’t wait to helm the bridge of my own freighter fleet and establish a sprawling base on a tropical planet. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to discover my first ruin and not get eaten by horrors.

Early Review: 9/10

Difficulty Over Fun – XCOM 2

XCOM-2

Release Date: February 2016

System: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (Steam)

Don’t get me wrong – XCOM 2 is a killer game. I mean, REALLY killer. As in, you will die playing this game. Many, many times. I mean, those aliens really love slaughter!

From the very ‘tutorial’ level of the game, you realize the aliens who revealed themselves in XCOM: Enemy Unknown are officially in control. Not only did they finish invading our planet decades ago, they’ve set their image as benevolent ambassadors from the stars, acting as a worldwide government and enforcing peace with their technology and strict laws. The stakes are high for the organization known as XCOM. Once a reasonably strong resistance force fighting against the mysterious and frightening alien menace 20 years ago (supported by the many governments around the world, in fact), they’ve come to be regarded as nothing more than terrorists. Not only do you start your experience in XCOM 2 incredibly outnumbered by the alien authority, you begin severely behind technologically, just as you were in the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

I love what story I’ve been able to see — our heroes, enduring insurmountable odds, fighting to bring freedom to the oppressed. The turn-based strategy of XCOM 2 is, for the most part, a joy to play with. The developers even improved the aiming mechanics to the point that your snipers can’t shoot through three homes and two car engine blocks at 100% accuracy. The return of the base-building mechanic in your massive flying airship is absolutely welcome (did I mention your base is a massive flying airship?) And the fact that said airship can be forced down by UFO interceptors is a really neat mechanic, leading your soldiers to defend the ship until it can be repaired. The many class specialties have changed a bit since the first game, mixing up the possibilities; while there are the traditional snipers and heavy-weapons-guys, you also get machete-wielding rangers for close combat and techie specialists equipped with awesome hover drones for hacking computers and healing the wounded. Finally, the many researched upgrades, armors, and weapons make the strategist in me grin madly. Ever played Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or that one sci-fi movie with Matt Damon? Yeah, you get that kind of modern heavy-duty power armor. With missile launchers attached. Oh yeah, and the myriad types of enemies you’ll encounter will make your eyes bulge out of your head and make you immediately wonder “how the hell am I going to take that thing down?” Can you say Sectopod?

xcom-2-loadouts

Okay, all the good stuff, great. No, really — everything that made Enemy Unknown excellent is all there and much more.

But you know what really kills the game for me?

The game’s difficulty.

XCOM 2 has many difficulty modes, ranging from rookie to legend. When I played the very first time, I selected rookie. I wanted to see the story before the challenge, see what enemies I would be facing in higher difficulties, which tactics and upgrades would be best to pick as the game went along.

A few battles in, and I’d lost all of my most experienced soldiers (three rookies dying immediately in the first fight), and the aliens were halfway to developing their ultimate weapon. That ultimate weapon (called the AVATAR project) doesn’t immediately herald an automatic game over once completed (it gives you a 20-day limit once it finishes), but it does make the game feel like a frantic sprint to an unknown finish line instead of the progressive tactical experience I expected and experienced in the first game.

You see, the missions required to delay that the AVATAR project would often spawn too far away from my current world position — to travel to different sections of the globe, you need to have the necessary amount of communication stations in your base to contact the resistance factions in each area. Not only is it very difficult to find the resources necessary to construct these comm stations, it became even more so with the demands of R&D research into improved weapons and armor. Resources and supplies feel too little and too far between, especially with the amount of time required to ‘pick them up’, while in Enemy Unknown, you’d get a monthly paycheck of sorts you could use right away.

But oops, don’t research those weapons and armors too quickly, though — the aliens will quickly advance above you, ensuring the upgrades don’t feel half as effective as they should. Obtain gauss weaponry instead of traditional firearms? Alien HP bars double. Obtain power armor? Alien weapons will tear through it with ease. I know similar progression existed in Enemy Unknown, but the upgrades still felt like upgrades… Not gateways into a more painful experience.

You’re going to lose men and women. Repeatedly, and sometimes randomly, no matter their experience. So what’s the use of upgrading a soldier when the chance of losing them before they become interesting is so high? I feel like I’m sacrificing rookie soldiers as an unholy offering to the RNG gods just to make one or two high-level soldiers survive and thrive. Then, if you lose them, there goes the whole game.

2988005-xcom2_soldier-grenadier-exo-suit

And then there’s the timers. THE TIMERS.

In Enemy Unknown, a few missions required you to complete an objective in a set amount of turns. There’s weren’t many of them, and their inclusion was a challenging but enjoyable change of pace.

In XCOM 2, almost every single mission is timed. And not slowly timed, either — like, you have seven turns to complete an objective point and evac all your troops. Sorry, but this makes the sharpshooter class one of the most difficult classes to use effectively, especially when snipers were so enjoyable in Enemy Unknown.

Did I mention the entire game has a big ‘ol ultimate weapon countdown timer? Everything in this game feels so desperate.

Yeah, I get that’s the theme of the game, in both story and gameplay.

But we’re still talking about rookie difficulty.

I know that I might be outside of this game’s demographic when I say this, but I enjoy simple tactical gameplay and lower stakes. Yes, I’m one of those that selects rookie mode over legendary, even over normal mode. I like to experience the story. I like seeing the soldiers I’ve spent time with grow and develop. Maybe I’m too chicken to play this game the way it was intended.

Ever play Final Fantasy Tactics? Sure, there’s always the possibility of losing two or three characters over the course of the game, but it’s a challenge to lose your entire party in a single fight (barring the late game battles) once you know what you’re doing. Here in XCOM 2, it’s not rare to lose an entire party of rookies in the first real fight. And the second. And the third. Then you spend your hard-earned resources on more rookies. Etc.

Lead developer Jake Solomon did an interview with Rock Paper Shotgun and spoke about the game’s difficulty:

The difficulty is actually one of those things that can be traced to a particular conversation pretty late – very late, actually – in development. I had been pushing the mantra for a long time that we need to make Normal or Veteran difficulty basically an ‘I want to see the cinematics’ mode, an ‘I want to see the story’ mode, and the player can get through it and it shouldn’t be that difficult. But very, very late in development everybody was playing the game, all the team was playing the game and they were coming back saying “yeah… it’s fun. But it’s pretty easy.”

…It definitely happened by late, but I think when the game got more difficult then you started to see people engaging, you felt that spark of life. ‘Ok, I do want to try again.’

…There are cases where it’s difficult to imagine getting through a mission without somebody dying. Some players can get frustrated by that, and that’s something that we’ve been thinking about quite a bit later. Obviously some people respond really positively to the difficulty and others say ‘it’s too much’, and that’s something we’re thinking about. How do we please both players, basically?

How to please both kinds of players? Well, make rookie difficulty actually rookie difficulty, for one.

There’s a balance between having fun playing a game and playing it for the challenge. Both should obviously exist. But in my opinion, XCOM 2 decided to take the difficulty over the fun. If it was during the late stages of development, I understand that perfecting these systems to balance out is difficult. But if the game was fun and too easy to begin with, I feel the pendulum swung a little too far towards difficult and unmanageable.

And that ‘spark of life’ the early players felt to try again and again? I just don’t feel it with this game like I did with the previous title. Even with modding options to raise the limit on those awful timers, I don’t feel like I’m progressing with the difficulty of obtaining resources and useful upgrades. And I still get torn in half by the aliens, killing my soldiers and my desire to play.

The game is praised almost universally by players and critics alike. And I can understand why. But XCOM 2 lost me. I didn’t want it to, either. I love blasting aliens. But I can’t finish the game on rookie mode. Maybe I’m not a true gamer.

And that makes me sad.

EDIT: I have BEATEN the game by modding out the timers. A couple of times, now, in fact. It’s quite the learning curve, and I haven’t even gotten the DLC for the game yet (which I hear raises the difficulty to incredible heights). So, yeah. Git gud, right?