Game Review: Fallout Shelter



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.



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.


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.


Game Review: 7 Days to Die

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.12.13 PMMy gaming buddy Mel bought me 7 Days to Die a few days ago to replace Minecraft, since she can’t join the server at the moment. I’d watched a Let’s Play of the game a while ago and it looked interesting but was still in early alpha, so I hadn’t checked it out. Right now it’s on alpha build 10.4 and is a thoroughly enjoyable game. If they iron out the remaining bugs, it would be well worth the money.

Come at me bro

Come at me bro

7 Days to Die is a sandbox survival horror zombie game set in a post-apocalyptic world. You have the choice between a pre-built world or a randomly generated one, both of which have a range of biomes from snowy woods to barren desert to fire-scorched wasteland. During the day, zombies roam around, stumbling at half your speed, hunting you if they sense you nearby. At night, they sprint at twice your speed and will break through anything including solid stone if they know you’re on the other side.

Spider zombies run like dogs at night which is kind of terrifying.

Spider zombies run like dogs at night which is kind of terrifying.

In terms of user interface, it’s very similar to Minecraft. You collect resources like wood and stones and plant fibers, and can use them to craft tools or building blocks to build your base. You can mine for iron, or you can melt down metal things you find in a forge. Your hunger and thirst levels are very important, and making sure you cook your food or boil lake water before drinking it can mean the difference between life and death. You can hunt animals or grow your own crops. You can also make guns or crossbows or land minds to assault other players on the same server.

Motor oil. That should come in handy.

Motor oil. That should come in handy.

Where 7 Days excels is in going a step beyond typical survival horror games in its realism. The things you build can only hold so much weight, and sometimes you might climb out onto a second floor balcony to escape a zombie and find the whole thing collapses under your combined weight. If you drink untreated water, you can get dysentery, which doesn’t go away until you take antibiotics, which are surprisingly hard to find. Uncooked or spoiled food can give you temporary food poisoning, which will definitely slow you down. A broken limb needs to be splinted until it heals. Neglecting your hunger and thirst levels reduces your overall wellness, giving you fewer hit points to work with. If you hunt a deer and collect its meat, the smell of the meat can lure in zombies for as long as you carry it. The more time you spend in an area and the more noises and scents you make, the more zombies will be attracted to it, and the more you risk calling down the horde.

Less realistic: the zoms that stroll along riverbeds.

Less realistic: the zoms that stroll along riverbeds.

The horde is the truly scary part of the came. It’s not quite like the raging horde in Left 4 Dead, but only because zombies are far more likely to kill you in 7 Days. A pack of twenty zombies sprinting toward your base in the darkness and clawing through the walls can destroy days of work, and the more noise you make fighting them, the more zombies will come your way. Mel and I holed up in a farmhouse and naively lit it with torches in our first play-through, and on day seven, the horde tore through that place like butter, collapsing our barn and ripping the house to pieces. They even destroyed our couch. Using a gun only called in more. It’s the kind of game where stealth is a better option than trying to mow down the enemy with more firepower. It certainly makes the game more stressful when you choose to crouch in a dark house, listening to the footsteps of a half dozen zombies crunch through the gravel on the other side of the wall, praying they won’t sense you.

Hosting your own server is ridiculously easy with 7 Days. You don’t even have to port forward. After months weeping over my Minecraft server, the ease of this game is refreshing. Servers are also customizable, so you can change the difficulty level, percentage of day versus night, the length of a 24 hour cycle, whether you drop all your inventory on death or just some of it, and so on.

There’s an option to play a server in creative mode, so you can access all the objects in the game and build your own base easily. Some objects are only accessible in creative mode.

You're probably wondering why I called you all here.

You’re probably wondering why I called you all here.

The game has its flaws. The main issue I have with it is the extreme lag. Half the time things run smooth. The other half of the time, especially when a horde is spawning in, the game slows down to a crawl, and everything moves in extreme slow motion. It feels like fighting off a horde of zombies while swimming through honey. But sometimes it’s laggy even with no discernible reason. Walking through wasteland is especially hard.

Sensible apocalypse clothing.

Sensible apocalypse clothing.

You start the game in your underwear, and lose any clothes you found whenever you die. My character spends nearly all her time in a bra and panties (and seriously, a strapless bra? Really? Was she on her way to a formal party when the apocalypse started, and she somehow lost her dress?), and occasionally in a hat or shoes if she finds them. Armor covers you up, but only to a certain extent.

Much better.

Much better.

And honestly, it’s so easy to die that some of the debuffs like being infected or having a broken limb aren’t much of a drawback, since you know you’re going to die from one hit soon anyway. I’ve never used a splint or antibiotics in the game because there’s no point. Sure, dying often means I’ll lose wellness points and have fewer hit points overall, but it’s really impossible to stay alive more that five or ten minutes at a time even with all the food and antibiotics you can eat.

You drop a backpack full of your inventory whenever you die.

You drop a backpack full of your inventory whenever you die.

Overall, I’d give it three out of five stars. The score will go up if the bugs are fixed by the official release. Is it worth the money? I’d wait for a Steam sale, honestly, but I do think it’s worth it.

Game Review: This War of Mine

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.06.34 PMA few days ago my friend Mel recommended I check out This War of Mine, because I don’t spend enough hours a day playing video games already. I’ve played it for 29.6 hours since then, and the only reason I haven’t played it for more is because I was at a Christmas party yesterday.

In This War Of Mine you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle.

I’ve played through it three times, reaching day 42 the first two times and 22 on the third. The game can last anywhere from 30 days and up, but generally 30-40 days. I guess I was just unlucky on my first two tries.

You start the game with one to four survivors (usually three) squatting in a half-destroyed house. You’re living in the city of Pogoren, which is in the middle of a war. Everything has been shelled, and most buildings are ruined. Snipers keep you in during the day, but one survivor can go out and scavenge every night under the cover of darkness. You can scavenge in a number of different places, though some places might be blocked by fighting, and if it’s winter, the snow can keep you from getting into others. You’re not the only scavenger out there, and a lot of the people you meet can be dangerous. Staying home can be dangerous too; if your defenses aren’t good (or even if they are), you can be raided by other desperate survivors.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.09.40 PMThere are twelve possible survivors–seven men and five women–and you get a random assortment each time. More may show up later, although you never seem to get more than four at a time. The locations available in the game and the dangers in each one are also randomly selected, making each play-through a little different. Sometimes you have a while to get ready before winter starts; sometimes the game starts in a blizzard.

Your survivors all have four stats: happiness, hunger, illness and wounds. Each of those has five levels: for example happiness ranges from content to normal to sad to depressed to broken. Illness can go from normal to slightly wounded to wounded to seriously wounded to lethally wounded. If any of the stats gets too low, the survivor can die, which will seriously bring down the happiness levels of everyone else in the house.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.19.51 PMThe game was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo, and is influenced by real events. 11 Bit Studios, the developer of the game, partnered with the charity War Child and their campaign “Real War is Not A Game“, which encourages games to demonstrate the realities of war. It’s a brutal game and really gives you an impression of how incredibly difficult it would be to live in this situation. It’s also very addictive, being just challenging enough to keep me playing again and again. I bought it for $19.99 on Steam and think it was well worth the price. Five out of five stars.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.33.22 PM

A new low for gaming


Let’s try to look at this week’s gaming news without dying a little inside.

Zoe Quinn, the game developer for Depression Quest, was targeted by a vicious harassment campaign headed by her ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend started a blog about her, accusing her of cheating. This ballooned into him and his 4chan army posting nude photos and YouTube videos with personal information including her home address, sending her death threats and rape threats, and on and on. In order to pretend this campaign was anything other than some douche whining about his ex, 4chan accused her of sleeping with a journalist at Kotaku in order to get a favorable review of Depression Quest. Since the journalist in question never reviewed Depression Quest, that excuse quickly fell flat.

Meanwhile, Anita Sarkeesian released the next episode in her series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This episode was part 2 of Women as Background Decoration, and pointed out the many, many, (many, many, many) games where women are used as sexy props, or murdered in sexualized ways, or raped just to make a game seem gritty. This, like all of her other videos, was meticulously researched and impeccably presented, which naturally resulted in a surge of misogynistic frothing and wailing. At this point it’s coming routine.

This time the rape and death threats were horrific enough that Anita was forced to call the police and evacuate her house for an evening. Yes, men threatened to rape and kill her in very graphic ways. Because she was talking about video games.

Phil Fish, founder of Polytron and creator of Fez, had his Twitter account and website hacked and personal information, including banking information and passwords, released on the internet. On his now-deleted Twitter account he wrote:

I would like to announce that Polytron and the Fez IP are now for sale. No reasonable offer will be turned down. I am done. I want out. RUN AWAY. Just don’t do it. Give up your dreams. They are actually nightmares. Nothing is worth this. To every aspiring game developer out there: Don’t. give up. It’s not worth it. This is your audience. This is videogames.

What was his crime? He’d publicly supported Zoe Quinn.

Saturday, hackers posted a bomb threat on Twitter about the flight carrying Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley. The flight was diverted to another airport. The hackers also took down the Playstation network under a DDOS attack the same day.

Yesterday, someone called 911 and reported an active shooter in the home of Jordan Mathewson of The Creatures while he was livestreaming Counter-Strike. This is called SWAT-ing, and, as intended, resulted in a SWAT team bursting into the house and throwing Mathewson to the floor, on live camera.

Dan Golding’s article The End of Gamers suggests that these events–or at least, the ones involving Anita and Zoe–mark the end of gamers. ‘Gamer’ in this case refers to members of the community of video game players whose identity is constructed around the idea of being “outsiders.” It’s a demographic that has been targeted by video game designers in the past, but now that more adult women play video games than teenage boys, the market is going to change. For guys who are beginning to realize they’re no longer the target demographic, that’s scary, and they’re reacting with psychotic violence in a futile attempt to stop it.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.19.39 PMOne can only hope.


Further reading:

An awful week to care about video games by Chris Plante

Video Games, Misogyny, and Terrorism: A Guide to Assholes by Andrew Todd


top image is from Wikipedia, and is in the public domain

Animating women is hard, guys

If you’re living under a rock, you might not have heard that James Therien, technical director of Ubisoft, said that Assassin’s Creed Unity will not feature any playable female characters.

“It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” Therien explained. “So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”

So you can’t add a female protagonist because wow, that perky bum is hard to do just right. And the hair! I mean, looking at the vast amount of exposed skin on the male characters, I can see why a female character would be drastically different:

dudebrosYou’d have to cut a boob window into that cloak, for one. They had nine studios working on this game, and that was just for the male characters. Imagine how many more they’d need to add to get some realistic breast physics in there.

You know, I feel like I heard this whole argument recently. When was that? Oh, right.


“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

So what is it that makes men easier to animate? Is it because males are not supposed to be emotional, so you can plaster on an expression of grim determination and be done with it? Is it because it’s a lot easier to reuse the same character design from the last game and not bother thinking up a new one? Or does it just come down to the tired old argument that women don’t play video games and men won’t play games with female protagonists?