In the halcyon days of gaming, most truly mediocre games were forgotten soon after their unfortunate birth. (For example, do you remember 2009’s major free-to-play shooter Battlefield Heroes? Didn’t think so.) Now that every game released by a major studio is expected to thrive and grow as an ongoing service until the end of time, however, when a AAA game ends up being an underwhelming product, it becomes a slow-motion calamity that only gets worse and worse with time.
Fallout 76 was far from the first game to suffer this fate, but it’s perhaps the best example of how a glut of memes and a drip-feed of negative press can continue to savage a game’s reputation even past the point of anyone caring whether it was actually decent or not. Now, however, with the mob of hecklers moving onto fresher failures like BioWare’s looter shooter Anthem, it can be easy to forget that there’s still a die-hard community of people who continue to play 76 now, almost five months after launch. But while most of them are content to just wander around the wastes and soak up the rustic West Virginian atmosphere with their friends, one former Vault dweller is absolutely determined to push the game to its limit.
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Big Trouble in West Virginia
“Vault101manguy” — or, for the sake of brevity, “Guy” — is a Canadian Redditor dedicated to building the most outlandish contraptions and gadgets that 76’s “C.A.M.P” settlement system will allow, twisting the limited array of assets available against his fellow wastelanders. He admits that he’s wrestling against the limitations of the game the whole way, sometimes leading him to sometimes discover game-breaking bugs that he has to wait for developer Bethesda to patch. And he has choice words for the legion of 76 haters: don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
“Honestly, the subreddit and the game are in a really good place right now,” he says. “All the people who were just there to hate on the game have moved on to Anthem or whatever else. They don’t even really play it. For those of us who actually like the game, it’s a lot better this way.”
As with many of the small but durable contingent of people who are still playing 76, Guy describes himself as a hardcore Fallout devotee who first fell for the series’ retrofuture charms in Fallout 3. Though Bethesda’s follow-ups haven’t quite captured him in the same way, he enjoyed messing around with 4’s settlement system, building his own ornate lodgings with the tools the game provided. When they announced an online Fallout, Guy realized that he would finally be able to share his creativity with the world in a more direct way. But when he actually got his hands on the game and realized just how limited the building tools were, his heart sank a bit.
“Compared to Fallout 4, the tools and things you can build are really limited,” he says. “They haven’t even really got to the level of Fallout 4 even now. When I saw that, it made me want to see what I could do with them, how I could push them into doing something the designers never intended. To me, that’s the whole point of having a building system to begin with, yet it sorta felt like they didn’t put a lot of effort into it. I wanted to show people what was possible.”
Guy has become infamous on 76’s subreddit for his two most devious designs: a “player oven” that roasts newbies naive enough to follow a mysterious stranger, and a death labyrinth where his fellow players are pursued by a murderous Deathclaw, one of the series’ most intimidating foes. As Guy admits, the developers behind 76 didn’t really intend for players to set traps for one another, but he considers his mechanical marvels to be great demonstrations of how Bethesda could overhaul the C.A.M.P. system to make for a more engaging experience.
He describes the process of building the deathclaw labyrinth as essentially an hours-long grudge match with the game’s limitations, requiring him from leap to server to server to find a Deathclaw that he could train and transpose into the maze. Once he actually got the frenzied foe inside the walls, he realized that he had to pretty much rebuild the entire thing from scratch — the Deathclaw was just too big to maneuver inside of his original design.
“My background is actually in security, so I guess I have a mind for this kind of thing,” he says. “Using systems in ways they aren’t intended, trying to come up with clever interactions. I enjoy that, but I think the game would be a lot better if Bethesda made it easier for people to be creative in the game.”
The videos of Guy tormenting his victims can be quite entertaining, especially from the other side. “We almost fell victim to this on Friday night,” says Twitch streamer MarriedMarks on Reddit, who clipped the encounter. “…You opened the door, my wife ran in, but I didn’t. The Deathclaw roared before she made it more than 5 steps in and ran back out.”
Others aren’t so fortunate, as Guy’s compilation reveals. Over time, he says he’s become more deft at making his creations look appealing, especially to newbies who aren’t familiar with these sort of trollish antics. “A lot of people say something like, ‘oh, that’s sketchy as hell,’ when they first see the oven or the maze,” he says. “But eventually, I think their curiosity gets the better of them. My intention isn’t really to grief. Most of the time, they’re laughing so hard I don’t feel that guilty. Plus, the maze is entirely an experience of fear, since the Deathclaw can only do slap damage until you attack it. It’s hard to know that when it’s in your face, though.”
Finding the Fun
While Guy has garnered a reputation for a sort of evil mastermind of 76, with some online commenters calling for his creations to be enshrined in Fallout lore, he’s quick to point out that not all of his creations are built to maim. His newest contraption is a catapult that launches a irradiated bovine at a massive wooden scaffold that features holes similar to a Skee-Ball machine. At first, Guy struggled to convince skittish players to try out his new minigame, perhaps out of fear that it was yet another deathtrap. Eventually, however, he managed to play a full game with a complete stranger, an experience that he describes as utterly vindicating.
Guy’s creations mostly receive positive reactions from the community, but it’s hard to completely flush away the stink of the average Fallout fan’s opinion of 76. On one of his videos, an anonymous commentator remarks, “I love how you found ways to keep the game fun. You make me want to play the game. I mean, I won’t, but you make me want to.” Though Guy admits that 76 has its fair share of problems, he says he’s determined to wring every last bit of weirdness from this particular incarnation of Fallout’s beloved wasteland, regardless of whether or not the game will come along easily.
“I think 76 is a great example of what happens when a game becomes a meme,” he says. “Yeah, there were a lot of issues with the game at launch, a ton of bugs. But a lot of that stuff has been fixed, and you can have a lot of fun with it if you try. Those people believed that making fun of the game was more fun than the game itself, and that’s when things really fall apart. I’m here playing the game, and I’m still having fun, and that’s all that matters to me. I’m going to keep making weird stuff, and I hope people continue to enjoy watching me do it.”