All My Base Are Belong To Me


Fallout 76 has been occupying a fair amount of my time. In fact you could say my life is split evenly between crafts and gaming. If you had asked me a year ago what my ideal life was, I’d say it was this.

I’ve noticed some trends in the gaming world, which is that “base building” games are now popular. It makes sense – the tried and true way of getting a player to buy into their online world or character has been to allow them some customization. Then, what we saw in many games like World of Warcraft was that people would go to tremendous lengths to customize their characters. I don’t buy the facile view that it’s just a bunch of pixels, either – a lot of serious gamers are role-playing and it’s important to them, for their role-play, to be able to build a character that aligns with the back-story of the character. In WoW, we had the pandaria half-hill quests, character item transmogs, and eventually semi-custom bases (not custom enough!). And then there were games like Fallout 4 and Subnautica where building a base was an integral part of the game because it affected your in-game outcome. For example, in Subnautica I built an extremely deep base with a set of long habitrail-like tunnels that allowed me to get into some nasty parts of the map without having to make a risky voyage on foot in the prawn suit. Also, in Subnautica came the great pleasure of building out your submarine – either as a bachelor pad, art museum, pseudoscience lab, etc. I had as much fun building a sense of attachment to “The Sea Wossname” (my sub) as anything else in the game.

All of which brings me to the failure of Elite:Dangerous to accomplish one of the things David Braben pitched as part of the original gofundme campaign: walking around in our ships. Given the massive amount of code they wrote for stupid things that nobody liked (arena combat, power play, etc) I never accepted Frontier’s argument that “it would be hard.” Because, you know, a floor-plan editor, some standard multi-level floorplans, and a bunch of assets you can position – that’s hard? I spent much much time in ‘deep space’ exploring and had to imagine what the interior of M/V Longshot looked and smelled like after CMDR Surly Badger had been living in it for a month, throwing former pizza wrappers under the command chair because, who cares, he can have the port staff hose the cockpit out and detail it for a fraction of the millions of credits of exploration data he was carrying in the ship’s computer. All Frontier had to do was some hallways with big heaps of bins some reading “instant coffee” and others “frozen pizza” and I’d have cheerfully scrambled through the maze of hallways to periodically kick a jammed drone out of the dispenser, or whatever. What we’ve seen is that mini-games involving crafting and maintenance are fun so long as nobody is actually getting hurt. Frontier decided, for reasons that never made any sense to me, to turn Elite:Dangerous into a first-person shooter, brilliantly ignoring the fact that a lot of their gamer community had fled to space exploration and trading games in order to escape grindy first-person shooters full of sociopaths who want to pay to win or cheat to win, in order to shore up some very problematic, shallow, egos.

The Dun Moradin is parked in the air over the area I am mining. I got to the ground in the little ship to the left, the Shiv. I’m on the ground hunting for titanium.

Before I got into Fallout 76 I flirted hard with Empiriyon, Galactic Survival and I still believe it’s one of the greatest games that narrowly missed the mark. It’s got some really great elements but, unfortunately, the questing system is questionable, the game engine is sometimes shockingly bad, and the maps are repetitive and cheesy – which is a hard thing to do in a galaxy with a zillion suns. The problem is: they are all the same. But the basic plan of the game is: “all bases are made of blocks” and, in fact, “a ship is also made of blocks, its just some of them are engines and if enough of them are engines, it’ll fly!” If you’re patient, you can sit there and assemble a ship out of blocks and then it’s whatever you want – long corridors with shipping containers, or glass command bridges full of houseplants and art. Best of all (brilliant, why didn’t Frontier do this?!) you can design a ship and upload it to a shared blueprint pool and anyone else who likes the ship can collect the materials, throw them in a hopper, and wait a few hours and – boom! I did not design the Dun Moradin – someone else spent hours and hours making that ship look incredible and (best of all!) designed like an actual functioning trader warship. (as someone in E:D world once said: “a capital ship is a big gun, covered with little guns, and some engines) I used to feel like I was coming home to something, when I managed to claw my way into the hangar bay only to find that my houseplants had died because some zirax had punched a hole in the bridge window and let the air out. Empiriyon managed to effortlessly do what Frontier missed in Elite:Dangerous, which is sad but more importantly they showed that it could be done, and done very well.

And then there was Subnautica. That game didn’t have tons and tons of assets but they made you hunt for blueprints and suddenly that mattered. You get the blueprint for a coffee machine and suddenly my base looks like I actually live there. Ditto Fallout 4. I don’t want to name names but someone farmed lots of pretty cotton summer dresses and dressed all of their colonists in them. And top hats. Both genders; I’m not interested in people’s gender norms. I have pictures of that stuff elsewhere but I’m not going to load it off a hard drive right now. My bases in Fallout 76 are still modest so I won’t show those, either – but, again, Bethesda easily dusted Frontier by building in a whole mini-game where your builds are contingent on finding plans and blueprints, so you’re searching for money and plans and will pay anything to get the right one. For example, I am still looking for the glass greenhouse modules because I want to build a glassed-in outhouse, because.

So, I asked Midjourney to build me some Fallout 76 bases. And they came out pretty cool!

Midjourney AI and mjr “a fallout base in the style of fallingwater”

That would actually be buildable in-game, I am pretty sure. It’s not amazing, though. But, still, pretty cool! It’s better than this AI here has done so far.

Midjourney AI and mjr, “a cool base built over top of a river”

I love the way Midjourney successfully apes the style of Bethesda’s art in Fallout. It’s remarkable and it makes me wish I could wander around inside that building. Or maybe own it, and put a few robo-gun turrets on the outside. After an hour or so of doing that, I thought to try a few other games, and gave Midjourney instructions to design Subnautica bases:

Midjourney AI and mjr: “subnautica base”

The color scheme in the Subnautica base actually tracks fairly well with the game! I guess that makes sense, since the game has a very distinctive look and there are tons of screenshots for the AI to feed from.

Midjourney AI and mjr: “subnautica base 2”

My general feeling in Subnautica as well as Fallout 4, and even Rimworld was, “I wish I could live in there.” Maybe not Rimworld because life there is about as messed up as it is here on Earth. Midjourney, by the way, didn’t do a bad job of bringing Rimworld bases to life:

Midjourney AI and mjr: “rimworld base”

Given the cannibalism, massive bloody attacks from raiders, starvation, and fellow colonists going crazy, I do not wish to live in Rimworld. But if I could move to Dun Moradin and go far from human civilization, never to return, I’d be packing my stuff right now.  (To give a sense of scale: Dun Moradin is about 3 city blocks long and 6 stories high; there is room for a substantial amount of stuff on board) (An anaconda in Elite:Dangerous is about half that size and of course we have no idea about its interior layout because Frontier never figured out that a ship’s interior could be a small instance. Sad.

All these things are, in my view, giving gamers a chance to play with the least expensive and most fascinating form of creativity: infinite pixels. It’s stuff but it’s limitless stuff. And, if you think for a bit, you can go out somewhere, mine enough asteroids, and build a gigantic orbital base and a battleship. Why not? Who cares? There’s a point, here, which is that the people who wish to be left alone could fly 2,000 light years to someplace, find a nice ringed world with lots of metal and carbohydrates, and live out there until the frozen pizza and beer runs out. I sometimes pause to think of that, since the model of Empiriyon or Elite:Dangerous is that humans can fairly quickly build FTL-capable spacecraft and then you’re no longer beholden to anyone. Police want to talk to you? Good luck finding me. Tax man wants a cut of my ship’s cargo? What, huh, I’m on the other side of the galaxy. Want me to fight in your war? No thanks, I can make a war right here. FTL capable affordable space ships means the collapse of all governments that are unable to corral “their” people under a system of political control. I wonder if that ideology has subliminally infected gamer-bros and that’s why there’s a strong libertarian streak in the community. I’m not going to say “humans need other humans” because, FTL-capable spacecraft would allow humans to build exactly whatever size and type of community they want – but these are games. It’s OK to build your little art empire by ethnic cleansing all the super-mutants off a chunk of land, but in reality-land it’s more complicated than that. It seems to me as though techbro libertarians seem to want to forget the details, and it’s the details that mean other people’s survival and make our own lives worth living.

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Subnautica had one mechanic I absolutely loved: battery management. You really needed to be pretty careful about batteries because if you were way down in a pit somewhere, and your batteries for your seamoth mini-sub died, you got to try to swim to the surface before your air ran out. Emergent gameplay! How fun!

Dun Morodin (pronounced “done maraudin'”) is a perfect ship for an ex-raider, who has gotten sick of the raiding lifestyle exemplified by the first-person shooter. One other note: the first time Dun Morodin was attacked by a non-player pirate ship, the ship’s automated guns had blown the engines and command bridge out of the pirate ship by the time I dropped whatever I was doing and raced through the ship’s corridors to the command bridge. There are echoes in that of Haldeman’s Forever War and C J Cherryh’s Downbelow Station books: space combat is something computers are very good at and your first indication you’ve been in a space engagement is you’re either an expanding dust-cloud, or you’ve won an epic victory.

Comments

  1. sonofrojblake says

    if you were way down in a pit somewhere, and your batteries for your seamoth mini-sub died, you got to try to swim to the surface before your air ran out.

    Emergent sea emergency.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    FTL capable affordable space ships means the collapse of all governments that are unable to corral “their” people under a system of political control. I wonder if that ideology has subliminally infected gamer-bros

    I assume you’ve read “A Few Notes on The Culture”. That’s what was ringing loudly in my head when I read that.

    For anyone who hasn’t: http://www.vavatch.co.uk/books/banks/cultnote.htm

  3. says

    @sonofrojblake:
    The notes on the culture were so profoundly influential that I probably can’t tell what they affected or didn’t.

    My main take-away from them is that science fiction is fiction and reality always has fractal complications. (The complications have complications and it’s complications all the way down) It’s why I look askance at all non reality-based politics. I should say that Banks killed Marx as far as I am concerned.

  4. dangerousbeans says

    FTL capable affordable space ships means the collapse of all governments that are unable to corral “their” people under a system of political control

    Any FTL space ship is a WMD. That situation just results in some really terrible suicide terrorism.
    Might make a good setting for a space game actually; no big stations or planetary settlements, just small isolated groups scrabbling for survival. A libertarian hell hole.

    My big obsession for this was Minecraft. Sadly over the years I’ve lost a lot of the save files

  5. sonofrojblake says

    Any FTL space ship is a WMD. That situation just results in some really terrible suicide terrorism

    To what end? Who are the terrorists trying to terrorise? The crucial word in the sentence quoted was “affordable”, which means, in this context, “affordable by entities other than governments”. In the Culture universe, planets have been rendered somewhat redundant by the reality that once you’ve got a practical interstellar ship, everything that you have to have had to get there implies that you no longer need planets at all.

    In our universe, though, there’s a difference – in our universe, the galaxy isn’t teeming with life. In our universe, according to ALL the currently available evidence, we’re it – we’re all there is. So if you give me a practical interstellar ship (which is a lot more than simply an FTL ship), I can point it anywhere I like and just bugger off. You can only terrorise me if you can find me, and you need to play Elite Dangerous or something similar to get an idea of just how unlikely that is. You may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemists, and so on.

    The affordability of the ship implies that we’ve reached a stage of development where there’s a LOT of them. Yes, some nutjob could crash one into the earth, but by the time such a nutjob had access to the thing, we’d already have at least millions of alternative habitats – self sufficient ones, by definition – forming a rapidly expanding cloud through this arm of the galaxy. Sooner or later people who left earth before it was hit would find out, but it would be a piece of news about as significant as me finding out today that someone’s shed had burned down in Ethiopia two hundred years ago. I simply don’t depend on anything in Ethiopia for my everyday needs, and even if I did, the news is so out of date as to be irrelevant. I mean sure, if you go back far enough my ancestors lived there, but you know things have kind of moved on.

    small isolated groups scrabbling for survival

    One person’s “scrabbling for survival” is another person’s “freedom”. And that isolation is itself protection from terrorism or any outside interference.

  6. outis says

    Lovely space utopias.
    If I remember correctly, that remark about ubiquitous FTL transport profoundly altering society (and allowing any kind of get-out-of dodge-ing possible) was already made way back in E.E. Doc Smith’s admittedly awful “Lensman” novels.
    Difference is, Smith just used it as a throwaway concept in order to write (badly) about gigantic battles going on forever, bang-boom, while Iain Banks thought about it way more deeply, and described an universe where life might actually be quite pleasant for a lot of people. Some pages in “Look to Windward” describes this relaxed, utopian feeling quite well I think.
    And Larry Niven also wrote about people simply taking their FTL buggies out, taking long sabbaticals, sometimes returning, sometimes not. Space is big.

  7. says

    Considering humanity’s track record re: weaponizing everything which possibly can be weaponized? The notion of FTL ships as WMDs is absolutely plausible to me. Bolt an FTL engine onto a billion-ton asteroid, and send it on a collision course with an uninhabited planet in a solar system with at least one inhabited world. Then transmit a message: “Hi there! If you don’t want your planet to end up like that expanding cloud of planetary fragments, send us 40 trillion NeoCredits within 14 hours.”

    Yes, there are practical issues with such a scheme. But the notion that there are some people sufficiently sociopathic/psychopathic to actually try to implement such a scheme? Totally plausible, IMAO.

  8. captrench says

    I’ve always loved base building even as a child when playing with Lego. I would build roofless structures that were really just physical maps of the bases I imagined and wished were interactive. Then pc games came along and provided all the interactivity and functionality I’d only been able to imagine as a child with Lego. Must admit, it felt a bit like gaming cocaine.

    The comment on Elite Dangerous missing a trick in not providing that degree of interactivity and customisability rings true for me. There is a slight issue of how to avoid player owned real estate in a game not conflicting with other players real estate to worry about, even if you play solo mode. Whilst you can play solo and not interact with others, the game world itself is singular and shared, even if players have the option of being invisible and intangible to each other. Two players might in solo mode select a nice space that seems deserted in solo mode, only to find when they switch to shared mode that multiple other players inconveniently had the same thought. This is perhaps just one reason amongst many that backers of Elite Dangerous asked for an “offline” mode, and were annoyed to be later told that the game would be fully online.

    Bases done well are hubs of functionality, whether that be crafting, defence, resource management or exploration, or a happy combo of all of them.

    No Man’s Sky is an interesting comparison game. It provides all the base building that Elite Dangerous lacks, but it fails in my opinion for other reasons. This doesn’t undermine the need for base building in my opinion, rather its proof that what makes a game sticky is the games features and how they combine to form a web that catches the players time and attention. Base building is important to me in a game, but it’s unlikely to save a game on its own.

    Regarding the little segue into The Culture, Ian M Banks brainchild, again, huge fan of his work and I also think that whilst its fiction, the reality described is largely not so much impossible as it is very distant. That is not to say that it’s inevitable given enough time, just that it’s possible. I once read a comment of Ian M Banks regarding the Culture series, that he set out to write science fiction that was for once not dystopian, as most science fiction is, but optimistic and hopeful instead.

    It was the Culture series of books that seeded in my mind the term “scarcity economics” and how technology and being space-borne negates it. Couple that with the ability to construct mobile living spaces or spaceships, that could be home to thousands of people at a time and you can imagine my base building brain just lit up in all areas.

    RIP Ian M Banks.

  9. says

    I had some fun dressing up the settlers in Fallout 4 until I walked into Sanctuary and a friggin’ deathclaw was attacking everyone. From that point on everyone got to wear the best looted armour I had available (I was wealthy enough by that point I didn’t need to sell everything I came across).

    Also the random attacks on settlements is how I learned not to leave power armour accessible to the settlers because they will use it and it’s very difficult to get back. After that all my power armour was kept in a doorless room. Was I using it? No. Was I just keeping it in my own personal power armour museum? Yes, so hands off.

  10. says

    @captrench#8:
    Fallout 76 makes it cool and fun. You can have 2 bases, one active at any time. If someone builds their base where your base wants to spawn, you can relocate it for free (or just not spawn it) – problem solved!

    I find it an interesting and fun part of game-play. Trudging through the woods, there’s a light in the distance…. oh it’s a neon sign and there’s a glass greenhouse full of tools and trade, where you can stop and buy ammo and offload your loot while you enjoy someone else’s creativity. I’ve seen some really cool places, including one guy whose base is an arena built around his pet deathclaw, with suggestions that you can arm-wrestle it if you want. No thanks, chum, I’ll just stock up on water and get the hell out of here…

    My base is a practical concrete wall around a bunker with machine guns on the corners and all over, basically. It’s really homey if you like Krak Des Chevaliers.

  11. says

    Tabby Lavalamp@#9:
    Oddly, I had a safe that I used to store my good weapons where my colonists couldn’t grab anything. How I fit powered armor inside is my little secret violation of physics.

    In Fallout 76 you can’t have lots of colonists, which is too bad because I’d dress them all in golfing plusfours and give them golf clubs. I really hate golf, so that would be maximum dystopia. Watching them fend off supermutants with golf clubs would be side-splitting.

  12. sonofrojblake says

    @cubist, 7:

    “Hi there! If you don’t want your planet to end up like that expanding cloud of planetary fragments, send us 40 trillion NeoCredits within 14 hours.”

    You mean, that expanding cloud of planetary fragments that’s either currently or very soon going to be raining down onto our home? Our home, which was in a habitable orbit until you buggered the entire orbital mechanics of the system by removing a significant body from it? Our home, which now that it’s going to be entirely uninhabitable within a matter of months has suddenly become really worthless real estate? What make you think anyone here even HAS any holdings of hard currency that are transferrable to you any more?

    Oh yes, and given that you’ve just demonstrated the willingness to mess with planetary systems, you’ve
    (a) made the point that Banks made in “A Few Notes” that planets are a terrible choice of place to live compared to ships and
    (b) put a target on your back so big that there are literally BILLIONS (possibly trillions) of people who will now be very motivated to find and kill not just you, but everyone you love, everyone you like, everyone you’ve ever had any kind of interaction with at all, up to and not excluding wiping out your entire species if it seems possible. I hope your banking system is very discreet indeed, is what I’m saying.

    That’s not to say people won’t crash FTL (or for that matter relativistic) Big Things into Other Things to destructive effect, it just won’t be “terrorism” as we currently understand it.

    @mjr: well, thanks man. Until you put this post up, I’d put Elite:Dangerous behind me and had downloaded Subnautica but never played it for more than about five minutes. In that five minutes, I didn’t see what the fuss was about (there wasn’t much fuss), so it stayed on my PS4 hard drive winking at me until a few days ago… then my wife popped over to see friends leaving me alone in the house for a couple of days… Well, I’ve done NOTHING in those two days. Well, not nothing. The Aurora’s drive is shut down and sealed, I’ve got the blueprints for the Seamoth and the Prawnsuit, and Deephold 1 is located almost 100m down about halfway along the hull of the Aurora, only about 800m from Lifepod 4. I’ve a few posters on the wall in the lounge, and a sweet scanning room. No moonpool yet (I’ve only just found out Rubies exist) and I debuilt the observatory when I came back after a bit of exploration to find the place full of water – structural integrity wasn’t great in version 1.0. It’s boringly absorbing in very much the way E:D was, so thanks sincerely for completely annihiliating my productivity and sleep patterns over the last couple of days. I don’t have time for this kind of thing any more! :-)

  13. says

    @sonofrojblake:
    Subnautica is the only game I’ve played in years in which I experienced breathless excitement. Until that, the first time I explored an abandoned vault in Fallout NV was.

  14. says

    sonofrojblake@12, I won’t disagree that the points you raised are possible issues with the notion of system-scale extortion. Your problem is that you think anybody who controls enough resources to expend two FTL engines on this sort of a scheme would of course be sufficiently sane to realize how stupid the scheme is, and of course not bother implementing it.

    Let’s put it this way: Do you really think Elon Musk wouldn’t do this, if he had access to the requisite tech?

  15. sonofrojblake says

    You’re going to have to more clearly define “this”.

    Another thought just occurred to me:

    The notion of FTL ships as WMDs

    What is a “WMD”? A “weapon of mass destruction”. What is “mass destruction” in the current context? A single weapon, capable of doing what? Killing more than 50,000 people more or less instantly? More people than that? Less? Destroying a square mile of a built up area? MELTING it? Or just killing every person in it, neutron bomb style, leaving buildings standing? Giving everyone in a city/county/country anthrax, or pulmonary oedema?

    If you’ve got a society where FTL or high-sublight drives are essentially disposable, what still counts as “mass destruction”? A town? Definitely not. A county? Nah. A country? Do they even have those? A continent? Probably not. For a civilisation with FTL or relativistic drives so cheap and ubiquitous you can literally throw them away, the absolute minimum threshold for what constitutes “mass destruction” is the destruction of the ecosystem of an entire planet. (Note: not the physical destruction of the planet, death-star style. That’s theatrics. “Just” a Permian extinction.) In any sufficiently distributed civilisation anything less wouldn’t even make the evening news, much as the vast, overwhelming majority of mass shootings in the USA don’t make the news even in that country, much less abroad.

    And even then if you’ve got cheap relativistic or FTL drives, then there are almost certainly people everywhere, in a rapidly expanding bubble. You could wipe out an entire planet and most people either never hear about it, or hear about it and shrug.

    Yes, I think Musk would do it. He seems to me to be deliberately driving Twitter into the river simply because he was forced to buy it against his will. Given the kind of resources we’re talking about I could see him crashing an asteroid into an inhabited space for mumble mumble reasons. My point was, given the kind of resources we’re talking about, nobody would care (apart from those directly affected). As terrorism, it wouldn’t work, and anyone with even a vague grasp on reality would know that. They could still do the thing for other reasons, of course, but shits-n-giggles is not terrorism.

  16. says

    sonofrojblake@#15:
    What is a “WMD”? A “weapon of mass destruction”

    I once heard WMDs characterized in terms not of the size of their deadly effect, but in the completeness of it. A WMD is not particularly selective, it just kills almost everyone in a target area.

    I actually like that definition (though I think it’s problematic) because it embeds some of the idea why we might feel more moral revulsion towards WMDs than other weapons. It’s indiscriminate.

    Ghengis Khan and his armies were noted for sometimes putting all the denizens of a city to the sword. Literally, lining them up, dividing them up, and having their heads chopped off or bashed in sequentially. It was probably as completely deadly as a nuke, but somehow it lacks the indiscriminate kill of a nuke. I find it more personal and more scary. But there are people who seem to feel that the impersonal kill of a nuke is worse. Uh, right. I have often felt that a lot of the reason some people hold WMD as separate is simply because they can complain about them separately. You know, nuking someone is a moral crime while organized beheadings is not – or something like that.

    A WMD represents concentrated power. That’s another thing. It lets some chickenshit push a button in comparative safety and kill a city somewhere else.

  17. says

    The comment on Elite Dangerous missing a trick in not providing that degree of interactivity and customisability rings true for me. There is a slight issue of how to avoid player owned real estate in a game not conflicting with other players real estate to worry about, even if you play solo mode.

    I really like how they have done this in Fallout 76: if you log in and someone has a camp on top of where your camp is trying to spawn, your camp is not spawned and you get a free opportunity to relocate it. Everyone has 2 camps, so you can also activate your other camp and use it.

    Fallout 76 seems to have learned a lot about how to do customization without conflict from games like WoW and so forth. It’s not possible to name your camp something offensive, etc. When Frontier first started screwing the pooch on Elite, one of the key points was that players couldn’t name their ships because Frontier were afraid someone’s ship might be named “the giant poop” or something like that. As if that was going to scorch players’ brains and eyeballs. Most games, if you did name your ship that, players would complain and your ship name would be erased and blocked. This isn’t really complicated. I think Frontier delayed certain features and used player experience as an excuse.

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