Fallout 3

2010 March 7

On to the second game.

The following teaser trailer for Fallout 3 gives us a slow build up to the big reveal of Washington’s major landmarks, the Washington Monument:

The trailer makes a fascinating series of moves. The “camera” takes us from the old valve radio playing the 1940s standard (nostalgia), out and up to the Hula Girl dashboard ornament (kitsch), out and back along the interior of bus, passing a lunchbox and bottle before our eye falls on two children’s toys (traditional, if hackneyed, indicators of the pathetic — in the formal sense of evoking pathos). As the camera travels along the length of the bus, we catch glimpses of pre-war advertising in the interior and ruins through smashed windows, before we find that the bus itself has been torn in two.

The camera rises, and we see the Washington Monument in the distance. It’s a ruin that we’ve seen in post-apocalyptic science fiction films, e.g. Logan’s Run. However, being modeled on an Egyptian obelisk, it also brings to mind the larger tradition of representing ruins and Eighteenth century notions of the sublime (see also this WLS page).

From this point, the music fades into the background, the sound of the wind rises, before being joined and itself drowned out by some rather ominous music. Finally, a power-armoured figure steps into the foreground — a visual representative of the forces that brought about this destruction. These forces are industrial, technological, military, and as utterly beyond the control of the individual as the natural forces typically represented by the Romantic ruin.

In summary, we move from:

nostalgia –> kitsch (post-modern fragment) –> pathos –>
–> sublime (monumental fragment) –> the war machine

Each of these moves undercuts and destabilizes our expectations of that preceding it, in some way. We expect warm nostalgia and we get kitsch;1 we’re amused by the kitsch factor only to be brought face to face with the suffering of children; this again shifts to a monument that represents one of the founders of the USA, the hopes and aspirations for a rational Enlightenment-inspired world order; finally, we’re confronted with the forces that tore all this down — forces unleashed by the rational world order. Notice also how the video balances the post-modern fragment (elements out of time; kitsch; playful) with the sublime monumental fragment (the unimaginably awesome represented by a fragment that suggests the larger whole).2

I’ve been a fan of the Fallout games for many years, with their combination of B-movie S.F. tropes, retro-futurism, a satirical take on the 1950s and the Cold War, and the way in which a player’s choices seem to make an impact on the game world. But as much as I loved the games, I never felt that previous entries in the series really delivered a sense of being in the cities in which they’re set. For instance, in Fallout 2, one can visit the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Wharf, and Chinatown, as well as Reno’s Arch but all are rendered in a two-dimensional isometric view.

On the left: The photograph of the Arch itself comes from Wikipedia's entry and Lvtalon (the photographer) has made it public domain.  On the right, a screen shot from Gamespy's Planet Fallout Photo Gallery.

On the left: The photograph of the Arch itself comes from Wikipedia's entry and Lvtalon (the photographer) has made it public domain. On the right, a screen shot from Gamespy's Planet Fallout Photo Gallery.

Even though I’m not someone who insists on the most up to date or photo-realistic graphics in videogames — I still think that Fallout 1 and 2 are great examples of the CRPG genre; my home console is a Wii3 — I feel that the experience of Fallout 3 benefits enormously from game technology advances. What follows is the first of five promo videos from Bethesda. There’s no need to watch all five; the first should give you a reasonable enough impression of the experience, although double-clicking on the embedded video will take you to the YouTube page with links to the other four:

The initial brightness of the outside light as one emerges from the Vault is a nice touch. And I think that I can spot the Washington Monument but I may be mistaken. If I’m right, it’s visible on the horizon at about 1 min 23 secs into the video.

The overall effect of the switch from a third person to first person perspective — the contrast between this and the still of Reno’s Arch — is impressive, no?


1 These images are hardly unambiguous. The 1940s standard evokes the Second World War. The Hula Girl might bring to mind U.S. imperialism of the early- to mid-twentieth century.
2 I suspect that there is something to be gained from an exploration of the differences and relationships between the sublime and post-modern fragments; at this point, I’ve no idea what such an exploration would uncover.
3 No comments from the peanut gallery please.

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