Gaming on a Timer

Thoughts – Incorporating Clichés and DLC, Old World Blues

This article discusses how using stereotypes and genre clichés can improve the overall narrative experience, as seen in the Fallout: New Vegas DLC, Old World Blues. As describing such devices is unavoidable, there is a high degree of spoilers involved – read at your own risk.

Old World Blues is the third of
 four planned New Vegas DLC.

As of writing this post, Old World Blues is the latest (and so far, most popular) DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. The basic premise revolves around a pre-War research facility based under Big Mountain (referred to in-game as Big MT or Big Empty) which, after the onset of the nuclear holocaust, became isolated from the outside world; eventually, it developed myth-like properties as a no-man’s-land where the horrors and wonders of pre-War technology would lay claim to even the most accomplished explorer.

The entire DLC is built around the science fiction clichés of the 50’s – including mad scientists keen on making thunderous declarations of intention, semi-robotic wildlife gone mad from constant experimentation, secret underground laboratories built around (arguably) unethical goals and over-the-top contraptions that function based on quasi-scientific terminology. The initial goals, for example, revolve around retrieving the player character’s brain, spine and heart, surgically removed and replaced with cybernetic surrogates at the DLC’s onset; while never properly explained, the game’s justification remains curiously consistent with the in-universe science and provides a mindset consisting of both hilarity and drama – helped by a running b-story about the previous Courier Six (the protagonist’s predecessor), which will be the focus of a future post.

Meet the Think Tank, the greatest
collection of preserved brains…

The main cast is also steeped deep in said stereotypes; the “Think Tank”, a collection of former scientists’ brains preserved in floating mechanical constructs are a pastiche of various “mad doctor” archetypes, each developed expertly into a functioning, believable entity, consistent with the cosmology of the Fallout universe.

While the characters come across as over-the-top (understandable, as that’s consistent with the genre the developers went for), they never devolve into caricatures of their selves, as each one has certain flaws and redeeming qualities worked expertly into their backgrounds (a personal favourite is Dr. Borous); conversely, they’re all given a series of motives that fall definitively outside the good/evil spectrum of standard storytelling fare – there are no black and white motivations apparent here – while the ending is predictable to a degree, it still manages to convey logical motives for each character, helping flesh them out and give an additional layer of depth (even provoking a rare case of meta-thinking in Dr. Mobious’ case).

…and face-monitors in the post-War
scientific scene.

None of this is apparent at a first glance, however; the true triumph of Old World Blues lies in its’ ability to remain a light-hearted adventure despite the undercurrent of morally-ambiguous motivations and to the developers’ credit, it manages to do that seamlessly, without the transition becoming readily apparent.

Moments of drama are gently replaced by hilarious encounters, such as the “School” encounter: tasked with running a “Communist Detection Simulation” (consistent with the USA of the 50’s view of the world), the player runs a gauntlet constructed to resemble a school built by Dr. Borous. During the final run, the player encounters Borous’ pet dog, cybernetically modified and conditioned to be lethally aggressive. As one of the possible outcomes, the dog dies, prompting Dr. Borous to deliver a tearful speech (incidentally a great moment of character development) which is then promptly interrupted by Dr. Mobious’ robotic scorpions; in the ensuing fight the player is treated to a good deal of hilarious, over-the-top one-liners asserting Mobious’ supremacy over the rest of the scientists in true sci-fi “camp” style – the shift of tone is almost imperceptible and always remains true to the in-universe rules and behaviours.

Apparently, a psychotic toaster fits
right in with the DLC’s theme…

The secondary characters have also been infused with the same twist: The Sink, the player’s base of operations within Big MT is populated by sentient household appliances, complete with distinct and (most importantly) likeable personalities; personal favourites include the “old army veteran” medical station and the “former blues singer” jukebox – each appliance is given a very distinct and stereotypical persona, adding up to a “community” of sorts, vibrant and (thankfully) cohesive as a whole.

…as does the mandatory giant
robotic scorpion boss.

In the end, what stands out the most isn’t the characters, the locales or even the narrative; the entire experience is expertly weaved from its’ components, justifying the adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its’ parts”. Such efforts should be applauded and used as an example in how even age-old stereotypes can be utilized in modern endeavours – with proper use, a cliché ceases to be a tired repetitive gimmick and instead becomes a solid foundation in the development process.

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