Anyone remember Fallout Shelter?

Hey, remember Fallout Shelter? That free iPhone game that everyone played the week it came out and then slowly stopped mentioning after that? Yeah, that one.

I still play it now and then, mainly as a way to make myself wake up in the mornings. It’s more effective to open Fallout Shelter than hit the snooze button. I’ve gone through several vaults by now, one of which I played through to absolute capacity.

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All the way down to Earth’s core

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Game Review: Rust

Last week, many players of the survival sandbox game Rust woke up to a sudden, surprising change in their characters—half of them were now female. This was a permanent change, and was linked to players’ accounts so it would stay the same across different servers. Previously, the game had randomly assigned skin color and, oddly, penis size as well. The latter actually is an issue because unlike in most games, you start off completely naked and most players stay that way. Since there are extremely few games that require players to play as anything other than mysteriously endowed white men, some players found this extremely disconcerting. Game dev Garry Newman responded in an op ed in the Guardian.

Inevitably, there are people who like it and people who don’t. Some players have praised what we’re doing. Like us, they think that who you are in the game, your race and gender, makes no difference to the actual gameplay – and are happy to have the diversity. Others aren’t so positive. They feel that playing a gender or race that doesn’t match their own is detrimental to their enjoyment.

These articles were enough to make me want to play it, and since I already got a copy of the game in a Humble Bundle, I decided to give it a go. Mostly, I just wanted to know what size my penis would be. Continue reading

Game Review: Sunless Sea

Thirty years ago, the city of London was stolen by bats. Now it’s in the Unterzee, that dark ocean below the Earth’s surface, and you’re a zee captain, sailing from port to port.

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Sunless Sea is a Steam game that started as a browser game called Fallen London. You can still play Fallen London for free here. The universe is the same, but the characters you play and the storylines you follow are separate. I recommend you check out Fallen London (why not? It’s free!) and make an account, but this review is dealing entirely with Sunless Sea. Continue reading

This is, in fact, a review of ARK: Survival Evolved

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Last August I bought ARK: Survival Evolved, the fun new early access dinosaur survival game, and just barely made it to the character creation screen before having to ask Steam for a refund, since it demanded way too much of my old, laggy laptop. This week, with my new iMac and 24 GB of RAM, I bought the game for a second time and tried again.

ARK: Survival Evolved is set on a 48 square kilometer prehistoric island (apparently called “ARK”) full of dinosaurs. Well, I say prehistoric; there are hints that things are not exactly as ancient as you might think. First, when you wake up on the beach, naked and shivering, you find a glowing crystal implanted in your wrist. This is where you access your inventory and crafting menu. Second, there are massive glowing towers in the distance, and every so often beams of light will descend from the heavens, carrying supplies.

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Conspicuously absent

Earlier this month, Disney expressed their shock at the #WheresRey campaign on Twitter. Wait, people want girls in their toys? What do you mean, people liked the main protagonist of The Force Awakens? Don’t you want to snuggle with a Kylo Ren cuddle buddy pillow instead? Slip between some Kylo Ren sheets? Maybe wear his mask? Dress up like him? Wear a t-shirt with his face on it? Wave his lightsaber around? Isn’t Kylo Ren such a badass? Finn too, I guess. Maybe Poe Dameron as well, although he didn’t play a major part in the movie. But Rey? Don’t you know she has girl parts?

I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” [Heroic Girls founder John] Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”

Kylo Buddy

From the moment I saw Kylo Ren in the movie, I thought “That’s a man who likes to cuddle”

The [toy industry] insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”

Meanwhile Hasbro is releasing toys like the Star Wars Monopoly game, which has every character except Rey, and a set of action figures which doesn’t include Rey or Captain Phasma but does include a faceless Stormtrooper and a faceless TIE fighter pilot. Maybe you can pretend there’s a girl under that helmet?

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.36.38 PMA spokesperson said that Rey wasn’t included in the Monopoly game to avoid movie spoilers, in a game that’s ostensibly about buying up real estate. Meanwhile, “The board also features Luke Skywalker and his iconic father, Darth Vader. The former, has no lines in the new Star Wars, and the latter is not even in the movie.”

Then there was the toy Millennium Falcon, which was released with Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8, none of whom actually piloted the ship in the movie. Who did pilot it, you ask? Come on. You know the answer already.

Hint: her name starts with an R.

Hint: her name starts with an R.

It’s not like any of that is new, though. After Guardians of the Galaxy, it was impossible to find a Gamora toy. Ditto with Black Widow after the Avengers movie. You know that iconic scene in Avengers 2 where Black Widow drops out of the cargo hold of a jet in a motorcycle? You can actually buy that toy if you like—as long as you don’t mind Captain America or Iron Man or Ultron riding the motorcycle instead.
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Disney said that they left Black Widow out of merchandise because she wears a tight-fitting black body suit, and that’s too sexual for little kids. Captain America wears a tight-fitting body suit too, but that doesn’t count, most likely because he doesn’t have breasts.

The industry insider confirmed that the Black Widow character is widely considered “unusable” within the toy industry. “She has a tight black outfit. Our main customer is concerned with ‘family values,’” said the insider.

 

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I know I’m scandalized

Leaving the women out of merchandise is a calculated strategy by toy companies. In the 1970s, toys were largely gender neutral. It wasn’t until Reagan deregulated advertising to children in the early 1980s that companies began to aggressively segregate the toy market by gender. They realized that if they make boy toys and girl toys, then parents would have to buy twice as many toys for their little darlings. This strategy doesn’t just work for children, either; there are feminine and masculine versions of deodorant, razors, shampoo, soap, hand lotion, pens, pepper spray, guns, etc. Not to mention the new fad of “broga” and “brosé” and “bromance” and “guyliner” and whatever else you can put a masculine prefix onto. This way, a husband and wife won’t share the same gendered products, and better yet, companies can charge more for the female version. No, really. It’s called a pink tax.

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Guns are phallic enough without being called a “pink pumpmaster”

 Of course, people can and do buy outside of the narrow range of things targeted toward their gender, but the staggering majority of consumers don’t. If it wasn’t a lucrative strategy, companies wouldn’t do it. There have been some attempts recently to fight back against this trend, such as Target getting rid of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toy sections. Oddly, some people were really upset about this.
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(c) Kristen Myers

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 Bethesda just released promotional photos of an extremely lifelike model of the power armor from Fallout 4. The armor is being worn by the default white male vault dweller that the game starts with. Of course, Fallout 4 allows you to heavily edit your character’s appearance and choose between two genders and multiple ethnicities, so this model looks nothing like the vault dweller I know and love. Maybe there were some players who just stuck with the default character, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that those players looked a lot like the default to begin with.
May I could just leave the helmet on

Another case of pretending there’s a girl under the helmet

I’m aware that Bethesda wasn’t likely to make a version for every character option available. Even if they did release a female version, odds are astronomical that she would be white. The point is, that model is meant for the target demographic, just as the Star Wars Monopoly board was, and the Millennium Falcon, and the Avengers 2 motorcycle, and all those action figure sets.

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For my Fallout 4 character, life in pre-apocalyptic suburbia was hard.

Something similar happened with the Mass Effect trilogy. Like Fallout 4, you can choose between male and female characters, but all of the promotional materials for ME 1 and 2 exclusively featured the male version of Commander Shepherd. BioWare recently said that the female version was actually their original concept, though they’d intended to have both male and female options in the final game. Still, they only coded Commander Shepherd with male motion capture data, made obvious in this scene of her inability to sit in a dress. BioWare explained that only 18% of players played as a female Commander Shepherd. Even the nickname given by fans to the female version of Commander Shepherd—FemShep—implies that she’s the aberration, the female version of default Shepherd. No one ever calls the male version BroShep, because it’s assumed that he’s male. It wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that FemShep was included in promotional materials, and only because fans requested it.
[Bioware marketing director David] Silverman says he’s been surprised by the amount of interest that Shepard’s female version has generated, but that it’s something that the team has embraced. “There aren’t enough female heroes in games in general, so it’s something that people can rally around and celebrate,” he says, adding “Jennifer Hale does an absolutely incredible job doing the voice of FemShep, so people really connect with that.”

That statement sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

At the end of their apology, Hasbro said that they’ll re-release the Monopoly game with Rey included, and they’ll make sure to get some more Rey merchandise going. It’s a good start, but it remains to be seen whether the next big action movie to come out will have learned that lesson. How many movies and video games will it take before companies stop being surprised at fans’ interest in the female characters? How long before merchandise involving non-male characters is the default, not the last minute add-on?

This is not a review of ARK: Survival Evolved

I was going to review ARK: Survival Evolved, which is the new survival game involving dinosaurs, still in early access. It looks awesome and I’ve seen some funny playthroughs, but unfortunately on my computer, it plays at 1 frame per second. And this is after it takes half an hour to start up.

I made it to the character creation screen, which is really detailed and gives you quite a lot of freedom with body type and skin color. Unfortunately, if you try to click and drag the character to a different position, it takes a second to respond, and then goes too far, so you go from full frontal view, to a nice view of your character’s scalp, to an up close and personal view of your character’s lovingly crafted crotch folds.

I’m fully aware that my three-year-old laptop is just not powerful enough for this game, but considering that I can run most games, and that this was all the way down to its absolute lowest graphic settings, I feel like maybe their requirements are excessive. Or maybe I just need a new computer.

Still, I’m sad that Maddy Longlegs is never going to see the light of day.

Able to reach objects on high shelves in a single bound.

Able to reach objects on high shelves in a single bound.

Game Review: Fallout Shelter

"Hmm...Raider?"

“Hmm…Raider?”

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few days playing Fallout Shelter, and it looks like I’m not alone—in just a couple days, Fallout Shelter has knocked Candy Crush out of the App Store’s top three games, something that hasn’t happened in three years.

Some background: Bethesda, the company behind such games as the Elder Scrolls series (most famously Skyrim), the Doom series, the Dishonored series (and yes it’s now a series! Woo!) and, of course, the Fallout series, released the iPhone app Fallout Shelter as an aperitif before the release of Fallout 4 in November. Everyone quickly went from talking about the Fallout 4 trailer (including the most pressing question: does the dog die?) to the app in no time flat. Kotaku posted a guide with tips on how to play the game. Sci fi and fantasy author Mur Lafferty talked about how weird she feels when she makes her shelter dwellers breed.

I feel like I just failed a perception check.

I feel like I just failed a perception check.

The game itself places you as the Overseer of a new Vault in the Wasteland. The short of it is, nuclear war has destroyed the Earth, and anyone who was lucky got into a Vault (or fallout shelter) before the bombs dropped. Outside the Vaults, mutated beasts and bloodthirsty raiders roam the wastes. Inside the Vaults, it’s a happy and productive utopia.

Knock knock

Knock knock

As Overseer, you get to build up your shelter, making sure to keep up a steady supply of food and water for your Dwellers and electricity for the Vault itself. You start with a line of Dwellers at your door, waiting to take shelter. Each of them has SPECIAL skills—strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, and luck. Most of them are pretty low on everything, although you might find a rare or legendary Dweller with higher scores. The traits help them with their jobs. Strength is good for power plants, perception is good for water treatment facilities, agility is good for food preparation, and so on. Don’t ask me why. Dwellers love to work, and are blissfully happy if you assign them a job that aligns with their highest skill.

Is there anything you people are good at?

Is there anything you people are good at?

You need to keep your power, water purification, and food production at a high enough level to keep your Vault running. Low power means rooms go dark and Dwellers stop working. Lack of food means health drops, and lack of pure water increases radiation poisoning. You can heal your Dwellers as long as you have the supplies, but an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure or however that saying goes.

In order to add more rooms and upgrade your Vault, you need currency, and that means bottle caps. You can get caps by completing challenges, or by sending Dwellers out into the Wasteland to scavenge, or by forcing your Dwellers to work extra fast by rushing a room’s production. These last two have risks—Dwellers can easily die in the Wasteland, and rushing a room can cause a fire or a radroach infestation. Still, it can be worth it, since upgraded rooms produce more.

"Oh what a day! What a lovely day!"

“Oh what a day! What a lovely day!”

Everything is time based. The diner, for example, produces a certain amount of food every few minutes. Adding Dwellers with high agility scores lowers that time, as does upgrading the room. Placing up to three diners next to each other merges the rooms together to increase efficiency. However, some things take a lot longer. If you put a Dweller with a high strength score in the weight room, for example, it could take twelve hours in real time for her to increase her strength to the next level. Dwellers out in the Wasteland find better loot the longer they stay out, which could mean many hours away from your base. When you call them back, it takes them half as long to come back as the amount of time they’ve spent out there, so a Dweller who has spent 6 hours in the Wasteland will take 3 hours to return with the loot.

I had to pay 300 caps to resurrect this guy.

I had to pay 300 caps to resurrect this guy.

To increase the production of your Vault and keep things running smoothly, you’re going to need more Dwellers, but once you get past the first rush, new recruits are few and far between. In the later game, you can add in a radio room that entices new Dwellers to come in from the wastes, but that can take a long time. The best thing to do is just breed your Dwellers, and that’s where things get…odd.

Putting two Dwellers of the opposite sex together in the living quarters starts off an odd courtship ritual that involves bad pickup lines, awkward dancing, and an eventual sprint into the back of the room. After a matter of seconds, the male Dweller struts out happily, while the female trudges out, hunched over and massively pregnant. It’s… a little weird, although both of them have 100% happiness for a while, so I guess they enjoyed it? The female returns to work, and the only difference in her behavior is that instead of whipping out a gun or her fists when danger shows up, she flees, waving her hands in the air and screaming. Apparently pregnant women and children are effectively immortal, taking no damage from raiders, radroaches, fire, starvation or thirst.

It was around this point that I started to feel weird. It takes a while for mothers to have their babies, and then for the babies to grow up, so I’d usually get all of the women pregnant before I closed the app for the evening. Seeing all those pregnant ladies in their matching yellow sweaters and massive bellies working happily in the power plant made me feel a little creepy, like I was running some sort of cult.

"Subjugate"

“Subjugate”

Immediate family members can’t procreate, although it can be hard to tell who is related to whom after a couple generations of breeding. I ended up giving each female baby the same last name as her dad, and each male baby the same last name as his mom, to avoid that awkward moment when I stop in to the living quarters to see how a couple is doing and find them saying “It’s so nice to spend some time with family….” Dwellers don’t seem to get jealous, and don’t mind in the slightest if their partner from one child hooks up with someone else the next time around. In fact, a few times I’ve sent two or three couples into the larger living areas and have noticed them switching partners repeatedly before they eventually settle down. I’m honestly not sure what causes that.

The app is free and has no ads, which is where the in-app purchases come in. The game uses lunchboxes as its reward system. Each lunchbox has four cards in it, each of which could contain things like caps, guns, outfits, new Dwellers, and so on. You can win lunchboxes in a challenge, but after the game tutorial ends, they’re rare. If you’re impatient, you can spend real money to buy them: $0.99 will get you one box, $3.99 will get you five, $9.99 will get you 15 and $19.99 will get you 40. All those extra caps and items can be handy, but building up your base too quickly can easily overwhelm the delicate balance of power, food and water management and bring your Vault to its knees.

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Ultimately, it’s an addictive game, although I admit it does make me feel odd on occasion. My Dwellers are deliriously happy, but are they really, or is that just the face they show me, the Overseer? Sometimes if you zoom in on a room, you’ll catch one Dweller warning another that the Overseer is watching. Dwellers work zealously toward their goals, but once their room reaches it, they slack off and wander around until you come by and collect what they’ve produced, at which point they sprint back to their positions. There’s that breeding thing. Surely not all of them are heterosexual or want to have kids, yet they march off to do their duty and are happy about it. They’ll even head off cheerfully to their deaths in the Wasteland without complaint if you ask them to. Maybe they want to be here, or maybe they understand that being in a Vault is a lot better than being outside it.

Believe me, they are.

Believe me, they are.

I’m going to give it a four out of five stars. There are a couple minor bugs—sometimes pregnant ladies get stuck in the living quarters and you have to close and reopen the game to move them—but on the other hand the game is free. My only recommendation is to get it for your iPad if you have one, since phone screens can be a little tiny. It’s only out for iOS right now, but it should be coming out for other platforms eventually. So even if you’ve never played a Bethesda game before and don’t intend to in the future, go ahead and download it, and try not to let your moral qualms bug you too much.