On July 17, 2014, QuakeCon attendees were treated to an exclusive look at id Software's Doom reboot. The demo ran longer than expected, giving the people in the auditorium (many of the screaming variety) a hell of a look at this bloody shooter. Heads were severed. Bodies were chainsawed. The legacy of Doom was alive and well. Showgoers raved about the carnage, but publisher Bethesda Softworks never released the footage shown at the con. In fact, Bethesda didn't show or talk about the game again until this year's E3.
This year, Bethesda gave the people of QuakeCon another exciting exclusive: a unique and lengthy look at Fallout 4. No video recording or cameras were allowed. Security guards walked the aisles constantly, eying everyone to ensure none of this new Fallout 4 content made it any further than the auditoriums screens.
The show began with a greeting by Bethesda Game Studios' director Todd Howard. He broke Bethesda's rule of no photography and snapped a panoramic shot of the crowd with his iPhone. Seeing most people were wearing masks of Vault Boy, which were provided by Bethesda at the door, Howard took a step back and said, "Those masks are creepy as s--t. That picture is going to replace my recurring nightmare of the Poltergeist clown."
Howard began his talk by saying he wanted to give the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the development of Fallout 4. "Our game starts in the past," he says, as different pieces of concept art flash onto screen, showing how the world was before the apocalypse. One image in particular gives us a look at the interior of a "house of tomorrow" with a mother and father living life in each room. "This art dates way back," Howard says. "I really like this piece because it was done by Adam Adamowicz, who was a concept artist of ours who passed away in 2012. It's really special for me to show some of his work today. We have a wonderful group of artists who have done incredible work on this game."
Howard says that the team obsessed over the little details in this house. We then see another piece of art that highlights this home's bathroom, which looks as sci-fi as it does retro. It's clean, and loaded with color, and features an oddly shaped toilet. "I just realized Elder Scrolls starts you in a prison and this game starts you in a bathroom," Howard jokes.
Next up is art of Mr. Handy. We see concept art of Mr. Handy floating around the family home as a door-to-door salesman talks to the wife and a high-res model of the robotic helper. "We don't just build the outside of the robots," Howard points out. "We build the insides so you can blow all of their pieces off. Mr. Handy is voiced by the great Stephen Russell who we use in a lot of our games. He's a Boston native, and is very well known for doing the voice of Garrett in Thief. He's an amazing voice actor. And he'll say your name [in the game]. We had Stephen record like a thousand of the most popular names and other things we find people like to name their characters."
We're then treated to a brief gameplay clip showing Mr. Handy rattling off a variety of names, including Mr.Matthews, Mr. McFly, Mr. Boobies, and Mr. F---face. The last one brought a lengthy roar of laughter from the crowd. Howard smiles and says, "Now I wish I had shown the longer version of that video."
The next image that appears on the screen is 10 to 12 illustrations of the Vault Suit, showing the different ideas Bethesda's artists had for revamping this classic blue and yellow look. Some were radically different, almost looking like something Isaac Clarke would wear in Dead Space. The final design, which we see as an in-game model and you've seen in the trailers and screenshots, is heavy on little details, like the intricate stitching on the shoulder seams. "We want back to more of a sci-fi flight suit look," Howard says. "It's a tighter look like they had in the earlier Fallouts."
We then see an image of a handful of Bethesda Game Works employees. On the floor is a German Shepherd named River, a female dog who was used for the motion capture and audio recording of Dogmeat. A video montage shows the various techniques the team used to capture River's likeness, including frisbee throwing in the motion capture studio, stick fetching, and holding a mic in front of River to capture her sounds. "If we're going to do the dog, we're going to do this right," Howard says.
Dogmeat is one of a dozen companions in the game. Only one can travel with you at any given time. Another companion is Preston Garvey, the leader of the Commonwealth Minutemen, who was shown in the previous trailers. He has a signature laser musket. "When it comes to doing humans in the game, it's much trickier than doing a robot or a dog," Howard says.
Howard then plays a video that gives us a look at the acting and motion capture process used to bring Garvey to life. "Man, I don't know who you are, but your timing is impeccable," Garvey says to an actor standing in as the player character. "Preston Garvey, Commonwealth Minutemen. A month ago there were 20 of us. The other day there were eight. Now we're five. First it was the ghouls. Now this mess." We then see this same recording in-game. The camerawork switches frequently as Garvey speaks, much like we've seen in Mass Effect to bring a little cinematic flair to an ordinary conversation between two people.
"In the in-game one, we're not scanning the actor," Howard adds. "The character faces and their bodies are procedurally done, and then we take those movements and map them onto any character. We build an archetype, a suite of animations because we have so much dialogue we can't capture all of it this way. The game uses a mix of stuff actors recorded and procedural facial animations, and a suite of prerecorded body animations that can go with various lines that you are saying. All of that comes together to create pretty much any scene we want to put together in the game."
The next companion we are introduced to is named Piper, a sharply dressed female character in a red jacket and grey cap, who resides in Diamond City. This locale is built in the ruins of Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox. This little detail brought a cheer from the crowd, which confuses Howard. "Does that mean you like the Red Sox, or do you want [Fenway] to be blown up?"
We see gameplay of the player character walking into Diamond City, a pack mule of some variety stands to the left, lugging far too much stuff. Piper is ahead, next to what appears to be the outside of Fenway Park, or what's left of it. She tells the player character to play along in an attempt to get the gates of the city open. "Wha...what's that?" she says in a half-serious tone. "You said you're a trader from Quincy with enough supplies to keep the general well off for a month? You hear that, Danny? You going to open the gate to let us in or you going to tell crazy Verna about losing out on all of this supplies?"
Danny opens the gates, then Piper and the player character wearily enter Diamond City. They are confronted by an elderly man who is clearly irritated by the sight of Piper in the city. "You devious, rabble rousing slanderer," he says. Piper cuts him off and starts asking the player character if he supports the news. We learn that she runs her own newspaper called Public Occurrences. Piper's verbal feud with the man reveals she has a little sister.
The last line we hear from Piper talks to a new aspect of Fallout 4: romance. "Look, I have to get settled in, but, um, stop by my office later. I have an idea for an article that you would be perfect for." Her tone, which implies interest in the player character, drew a hoot and clapping from the crowd.
"We track how [each companion] feels about you," Howard says. "With the humans, it can even lead to romances and that is regardless of whatever gender you are playing. We spent a lot of time on this mechanic. They have a lot of personality. You can also play without a companion, and we have special perks for if you want to play as kind of a lone wanderer."
After showing an amusing fake ad for the new Pip-Boy that was used for an internal guide three years ago, Howard walked us through Fallout 4's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. character system. "We really wanted to bring this to the forefront of the game," he says. "This is how you define your character."
We are then shown a video for Strength, just one of the many S.P.E.C.I.A.L. fields in the game. The video looks like an old black and white Disney cartoon that shows an animated Vault Boy exploring everything Strength offers. A narrator talks over the video: "Following total atomic annihilation, the rebuilding of this great nation of ours may fall to you. That's why we at Vault Tec have prepared these educational materials for you to better understand the attributes that make you special. Today we will focus on Strength. In the wasteland, essential supplies will be scarce. When an item of value is found, keep it close and away from bullies. The stronger you are, the more you can carry." We then see Vault Boy carry too much supplies, a goofy visual that ends with his body crushed into goo. It's as violent as an Itchy and Scratchy skit.
The narrator then details Strength's application to combat, which again, is displayed through a comedic skit that brings great harm to Vault Boy, who we see wielding a bat, ripper, and power fist at different times. "That's a great video," Howard says. "It's one in a series of all of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. videos that we're going to be releasing between now and the release of the game. We're giving you a hint there of all of the things Strength can do in the game."
Howard then transitions to the leveling system in the game. "We have a whole bunch of perks and those are tied to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats. Every time you level up, you get to pick a perk," Howard says. An image of a poster with rows and rows of greyed out Vault Boys appears. When you pick a perk that you want, that greyed out Vault Boy animated and turns to color. The perks include intimidation, where you can control other people, attack dog, something called V.A.N.S., sneak, bloody mess, and dozens more.
"You have this Vault Tech poster with all of your perks, and there is a separate perk for each S.P.E.C.I.A.L. and each value of that S.P.E.C.I.A.L. from 1 to 10," Howard adds. "Each perk, except for a few exceptions, has multiple ranks. We have combined the previous skill system into this as well. If there are 70 base perks and you add all of the ranks, you're getting around 275 of those. We've found that this gets us some really cool different play styles. It's a very very cool and fun leveling system in the game."
Howard's presentation ends with an extended gameplay sequence, the longest shown yet, of a town called Lexington. "Ghouls have come into this area and driven out many survivors, but you hear rumors that a group of raiders have moved in on the factory," Howard says. "This will give you a look at how combat and looting play out."
The video is not of a continuous gameplay sequence, jump-cutting to significant moments or things to see. The player character wields a bronze machine gun with a strange looking scope, almost looking like a drainage pipe was cut up and fastened to the top of the gun. It doesn't take long to get a look at combat. Swarms of aggressive Feral Ghouls swarm the player character. They are relentless in their attack, but are no match for this firearm. We also see a Legendary Feral Ghoul attack. Another enemy is called the Roamer.
After dispatching the threat, which produces a pile of corpses, we are taken inside of a Super Duper Mart, a heavily ransacked store with a robot that says "protect and serve" as it patrols the aisles. The player character sends Dogmeat out to search a dead Ghoul's body directly ahead. Deeper in the market, we are given a brief look at safe cracking, lock picking (yes, bobby pins return), and terminal hacking. The terminal hacking sequence looked similar to Fallout 3's, where a player must decipher a scrambled sequence of letters, numbers, and characters.
The player character changes weapons frequently in this video. One firearm shoots red energy after it's charged up. The energy is contained in a clear cylinder on the gun. We also see a potent flamethrower torch a couple of Ghouls. Walking through sections of this store bring up "+4 Rads" messages on the lower right hand side of the screen.
Upon returning to the Commonwealth, which again is a jump cut and doesn't show us if there are load times when leaving or entering buildings, we see a corpse slam dunked into a basketball hoop. The player character pulls out a sniper rifle and uses it to one-hit headshot kill Raider Psychos that are running his way. Their heads explode into small splotches of bone and brain. Corpses and things that are looted bring all sorts of things, including gold watches, springs, copper, steel, leather chest pieces, and a Grognak: The Barbarian comic book. The comic's cover can be viewed up close, and yes, it looked hilariously awful.
The battle wages on into an assembly plant that is loaded with details and things to look at. One shot on an explosive barrel makes short work of a raider, his body almost appearing to explode with the flames and gas. As gun fire is exchanged, Dogmeat is seen periodically leaping up onto his own targets and taking them down.
We see a working water fountain that rapidly raises the player's Rads, and an automated turret that proves to be troublesome, requiring a well-placed grenade throw to defeat.
Our look at Fallout 4 concludes in a courtyard battle that becomes more chaotic as it unfolds. A rocket is fired into the chest of an enemy. Two Brotherhood of Steel soldiers descend from a drop ship and open fire on your targets, marching like invulnerable titans along the ground. Another dropship is blown out of the sky and crashes into a building. Its debris rains down on the battlefield; one of the bodies flung from it screams as it flies off screen. The player eventually stumbles upon two mini nuke rounds on a table. A quick look at his inventory reveals the Fat Man. He wastes no time using it to diminish the immense number of enemies on the ground, beautiful mushroom clouds and fire rising from the corpses and destruction. The Fat Man is also used against a tall Behemoth beast, who is wielding a club that must be 10-feet long. The club has a red fire hydrant attached to it. A couple of mini nukes down the titan, and the demo ends.
November 10 can't come soon enough. It looks like Bethesda Game Studios is pulling out all of the stops with this sequel.