Can you imagine teaming up with a dozen of your friends to take down raider gangs, brutal warlords, and mutant monsters in the nuclear wastelands of Fallout?
Jak Brierley, a 19-year-old games development student at the University of Central Lancashire, is developing a mod that would allow for cooperative play of Fallout: New Vegas on PC. The mod would create player-versus-player combat, as well and co-op exploration of the Mojave Wasteland that surrounds the city of New Vegas.
The mod does not technically create a Fallout MMO—yet. Instead of a game world that’s independent of who’s logged on, players would use Brierley’s mod to connect to each others’ computers.
But if and when it becomes possible to host a co-op session of New Vegas on an external server, that will satisfy one of two key ingredients an MMO requires.
The other ingredient—a stable world for all the players to share—may be much more tricky to solve, because in Fallout: New Vegas you can kill just about everyone. If someone else in your game decides to kill every inhabitant of New Vegas, you won’t be able to gamble, or buy and sell items, or do anything that requires other characters to interact with.
“I’ve never really published or participated in the modding community until now,” Brierley told The Daily Dot via email. “I was pretty mischievous when I was a kid as I used to like finding cheats in games. I think this has encouraged me to take interest in taking games apar, and doing what others call impossible.”
The last attempt at creating an official Fallout MMO, Fallout Online, ended in a protracted legal battle between the development studio Interplay and Bethesda Softworks, the current owner of the Fallout IP. Bethesda Softworks has not announced any plans for an officially licensed Fallout MMO.
The task of creating multiplayer versions of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas therefore falls to the modding community that has long since embraced the Fallout series with hundreds of mods. An attempt to create a Fallout 3 multiplayer mod died on the vine, however, as did a different effort to create a multiplayer Fallout: New Vegas mod.
“For the past few years I’ve lurked a lot of similar mods,” Brierly wrote, “and it’s sad to say that some of them have either been abandoned or neglected. I wanted this to be something that lets the Fallout community connect, and that’s my ultimate goal.”
Brierly began work on his New Vegas multiplayer mod in July 2015. He does all the programming himself and created the Pip-Boy-esque home page for the mod, where players can register to take part in closed beta testing.
Two people assist Brierly with forum moderation, and seven people serve as GameMasters who maintain order among players in the mod’s test environment and assist with quality assurance testing.
For now, Brierly alone has to figure out how to tackle the biggest challenge of modding New Vegas into a multiplayer game. He has to make sure griefers can’t ruin the experience for everyone by committing wholesale slaughter.
In most RPGs, either single player or multiplayer, there are a slew of non-player characters or NPCs who can’t be harmed. This is a good thing, as many of those NPCs buy and sell goods from players, or give them quests, or perform other functions without which an RPG doesn’t function.
In Fallout: New Vegas, however, the only people safe from murder generally are children. Everyone else is a potential victim. The card dealers in the casinos, the potential allies you meet in the Mojave Wasteland, the regular people who live in the towns—they’re all on the chopping block. And that necessarily includes item vendors and quest-givers.
Most role-playing games break the game space up into “zones.” The amount of data that defines an area, like the graphics and the enemies and the NPCs, is considerable. By breaking the game up into separate zones, the software can more easily and smoothly run.
Usually when you enter a new zone, you encounter a loading screen. Think of this as the software temporarily erasing the zone you just left, and building the new one you’re about to enter.
In any multiplayer RPG, the computer has to be ready for any number of players to enter any zone. This is why in MMORPGs, all of those quest-givers cannot be killed. If the zone looks pretty much the same for anyone, it doesn’t matter how many people come and go.
But in a game like Fallout: New Vegas, when there are so many people you can kill—and therefore effectively remove from the game—providing a stable game space could be a nightmare.
“Zone hosting is locked to the person who has been in the [zone] the longest,” Brierly wrote. “When they leave the next person who’s considered the ‘oldest’ is set as the [zone] manager. When the old host has left, the new zone they have entered will sync them to the oldest person there, or if no one is here then they become the host.”
Let’s say that you’ve never killed anyone in New Vegas. You load into that zone, but someone was there before you, and they have killed everyone. They have been in the zone longer than you have—they are the “oldest”—so everyone in New Vegas is also dead for you, even though you personally haven’t killed any of them.
The way you solve the problem is to leave New Vegas, load into the zone that’s next door, then turn around and return to New Vegas. Then, Brierly’s multiplayer mod can define the zone by what you have done—everyone will be alive—unless someone else who also killed everybody beat you into the zone.
Fallout: New Vegas already has substantial load times, so doing all this leaving-and-entering zones could become frustrating for players. And when there are dozens and dozens of NPCs that are essential for quest lines to run properly, the opportunity for player frustration becomes enormous.
The issue is exacerbated by how healthy Brierly’s mod already is, in terms of being massively multiplayer. “I feel the mod could pull off at least ~45 NPCs in a single instance,” Brierly said. “Players aren’t just standard NPC data, they technically cost less than an NPC on player’s CPU so this works in our advantage.”
The potential for having dozens of players in the same game of New Vegas is tremendous. Brierly’s mod disables the V.A.T.S. “pause-and-choose-targets” system that in part defines Fallout games, because one player can’t pause the game for everyone else. That means that the mod turns Fallout: New Vegas into more of a pure shooter, with all the chaos that ensues.
Players in Brierly’s mod also have to compete for loot when they kill monsters, i.e. first come, first served, which is another formula for hilarity.
The dream of a Fallout MMO is far from dead, as long as Brierly stays on track in creating his mod, which provides the rudiments for making that dream possible. That is, if he can handle all the frustration that goes along with this sort of project.
“When making a native mod for any game of this scale, if you slip up with your code the entire thing crumbles,” Brierly wrote. “I even started building muscle memory for pressing ALT+F4 so much when the screen turned pale white.”
Illustration courtesy of Bethesda Softworks