Mobilization in Fallout Shelter: Where the console port falls short

THE LAUNCH OF FALLOUT SHELTER

Longtime fans of the Fallout series have undoubtedly heard of Fallout Shelter, a mobile free-to-play game deployed first on iOS in June 2015. Bethesda released the game without any prior advertisement or fanfare, though it certainly rode the coattails of the highly-anticipated reveal of Fallout 4. Fallout Shelter is a marked departure from other games in the franchise; as a 2.5D simulation game, the 1.0 version relied heavily on mobile-centric gameplay mechanics that fed dedicated players a steady stream of rewards.

As the game’s development progressed, a series major patches brought about new gameplay mechanics and activities for the player to engage in. These features were widely welcomed as new activities that a player could actively sink their teeth into, including active questing options for those wandering the wasteland, or the option to send dwellers to a time-sensitive mission for some promised reward.

Fallout Shelter still stands on its own two feet as one of the best mobile games I’ve had the privilege to install into my phone. It’s a highly digestible foray into the Fallout universe, one that I’ve loved for so long, and rewards long-term players with in-game valuables that truly convey a sense of progression given for all of the time invested in serving as Overseer for your particular vault(s). When it was announced that Fallout Shelter would be released for Xbox One and Windows 10, I began a new (albeit significantly shortened) waiting campaign on the next release from Bethesda. What I found, however, was exactly the same game as I’d come to know so well – why didn’t it pull me in as much as its mobile version had?

[Author’s Note: For some unknown reason, I was unable to capture screenshots of the Xbox One version of the game. I combed through all applicable settings (in-game and system-side), without avail. I’ve included screenshots from the iOS version of the game, which is identical in all manners but the few Xbox UI elements that identify which button does what.]

 

 

GAME MECHANICS

Now may be the time to discuss some core mechanics of Fallout Shelter, specifically for those that have yet to play it or may need a refresher; my qualms with the console port reside primarily in this domain. If you’re a well versed player of the game, feel free to HIT THE JUMP to skip past the filler (will not cost you a single Nuka-Cola Quantum).

As with a number of mobile games (and mega-popular Facebook games from ~2009+), Fallout Shelter relies on a simple formula: Do something. Wait for X minutes. Collect Y reward. It may be difficult to conceive that Bethesda, known for their vast, complex, immersive worlds, could be responsible for a title that bears such conceptual resemblance to the Zynga titles of old (Farmville, Mafia Wars), though there are some major factors that separate the two camps. More on that later.

Speaking on the essential resources to be collected in Fallout Shelter, there are six to be mindful of:

Dwellers: People residing in your shelter, or dwellers, form the basis of all operations within the vault. They carry out all tasks and activities, and each come with the franchise-standard SPECIAL stats (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck), in addition to Health and Happiness. Radiation also returns to play a factor in a dwellers’ wellbeing, albeit as a subset of Health where maximum health is lowered as radiation sickness progresses. Not a major factor for the rest of this reading.

Power: Electricity, used for powering the rooms of the vault, is one of the most essential resources in the game. It can be collected from power-generating rooms manned by Strength-oriented workers (that is, to say, dwellers with high Strength increase the efficiency of the room). Without it, the rooms furthest from power-generating rooms will shut down until power is regained.

Food/Water: The two other ‘primary’ resources to worry about, Food and Water directly affect the health and radiation sickness of dwellers in your vault, respectively. Supply levels must be kept above a certain amount (linearly dependent on the number of dwellers in the vault). Food-oriented rooms are best populated with Agility-heavy dwellers, and Water-producing ones are made more efficient with Perception-trained dwellers.

 

Power and Water rooms in Fallout Shelter
Top: Power production
Bottom: Water production

 

Weapons/Outfits: Each (adult) dweller may be equipped with a weapon and a single outfit. Weapons directly affect the damage output of the dweller in question, while outfits will raise one or more of their SPECIAL stats. All equipment is organized into Common, Rare, and Legendary groupings, with their bonuses scaling similarly. As the item quality rises, so do the requirements for crafting, looting, or otherwise acquiring them.

Now, with crucial resources covered, we come to the mechanics involved in acquiring them to make for a happy and efficient vault. As noted above, dwellers will have a varying effect upon the rooms to which they’re assigned; the core ‘strategy’, however, is simply to place a dweller in the room that corresponds to their highest stat. Strength = Power, Agility = Food, etc. The higher a dweller’s stat, the faster a resource can be obtained from said room – depending on the size and level of the room (1-3 identical rooms can be merged together, and rooms may be upgraded from level 1-3 to increase efficiency and resource storage).

As rooms are upgraded to increase output, so must be the dwellers operating the equipment inside – room efficiency is gauged by the combined total of the dwellers’ primary stats.

Sample math: With six dwellers assigned to a Power room, each with a Strength stat of 5, the room’s efficiency is valued at 30 (6 x 5). This may take 2m45s to gather resources, but training up one dweller so that the room’s efficiency value is 35 may mean that the room will now produce the same amount of power in 2m30s. The exact formulae have been speculated upon, but remain unconfirmed by Bethesda. The idea of stat-dependent output is the important part to bear in mind regarding the mobilization aspects inherent to Fallout Shelter.

 

 

EARLY-GAME OPERATIONS

In the early stages of setting up a vault, rewards are doled out sparingly as the primary objective is simply to grow the vault population while maintaining a viable stockpile in each of the three primary resources. As population grows, rooms unlock and the player’s options for customization expand. The game starts slowly, and builds momentum (in regards to playability) directly in-step with the number of dwellers milling about their day. Caps (the game’s currency) can be earned randomly when collecting resources (based on the total Luck stat of the room), when rushing through production, or by sending dwellers out into the wasteland to scavenger for cash or loot. Exploring the wasteland is likely the first facet of gameplay in which the player is exposed to the long-term waiting common to free-to-play (F2P) games.

Loot is scavenged at random intervals, and is also dependent on the dweller’s stats. Loot quantity and quality is variable, and the combat statistics come into play with the random-rolled encounters with adversaries. If the dweller survives for a half-decent period of time (6-12 real-world hours), they may have some goodies (weapons/outfits/crafting materials) to bring home. If they survive beyond the 24-hour period (typically requires high-end gear, stats, and level/health), Legendary loot can be acquired and brought back to share. Returning home takes exactly half as long as it did for them to adventure that far; a six-hour foray into the wilderness takes 3 hours to make their way back.

 

Returning from the wasteland - Fallout Shelter
Mr. Tenpenny [a Fallout 3 celebrity] returning to the vault after a few days outside

 

WAITING .. PT I

As noted above, exploring the wasteland is likely to be the first opportunity that a player finds themselves waiting for a lengthy period of real-world time until an as-yet undetermined outcome presents itself. If there is a chance to collect loot every 5 minutes, checking back on the dweller in 6 hours may mean they have a tidy stash of gear ready upon their return; decent prospects for the early days of any vault. When stats and equipment are better, though, there are elusive and rare treasures to be found – back to the grind and paying attention to happenings in the vault with some stat training.

Moving forward with mechanisms expected in mobile-centric games, Fallout Shelter allows the player to train the SPECIAL stats of their resident vault dwellers through use of the seven trainings rooms that may be built once unlocked (tied to dweller population). Training is straightforward: assign a dweller to the training room, wait for X minutes, and tap on them to ‘collect’ their progress and begin their training anew towards the next stat level. The training of each successive stat level (to a maximum of 10) takes incrementally longer than the previous point took to earn.

Take a moment to look at the incremental jumps in the length of time required to train a dweller’s statistics, and bear in mind that there are seven SPECIAL stats that must be trained up to 10 in order to have a max-level vault dweller; the pinnacle of end-game stat-building efforts. A max-stat dweller will exceed at all tasks and stand the best chance at attaining legendary rewards from the channels made available to them.

One caveat, however, is the amount of real-world time required to train a single dweller up to maximum efficiency.

Sparing the reader some tedious math, data collected shows that even in a Level 3 room (fastest training speed), the dweller takes 62 hours, 32 minutes to train from 1 to 10 in a single SPECIAL stat. Multiplying that out by 7 (to cover all seven SPECIALs), it takes 437h 44m to train all stats, for a total of 18.24 real-world days. This figure also presumes that the player is immediately present for the next increment in the training regime where, as, as noted above, increments vary from 24m to 17h4m. Best-case scenario, training a dweller (or a whole ‘batch’ of them at the same time) will take just under three weeks of real-world time and regular gameplay invested, and that’s in the best-case scenario, which sees a 14% decrease in time training compared to Level 1 rooms.

Fallout Shelter training minutes (cumulative)
Cumulative time spent training a dweller from 1-10 in a single SPECIAL stat.

 

Fallout Shelter training room speed comparison
Comparison of total time spent training a single SPECIAL stat

 

WAITING .. PT II

Moving away from stat training, shown to be a massive time sink and exercise in micro-management in and of itself, we now draw our attention to the Questing gameplay elements introduced relatively recently in Fallout Shelter’s post-release development support. Quests are available through the Overseer’s office, and up to three teams (of up to three dwellers each) may be dispatched to various locations in the hunt of loot, characters, or crafting recipes.

Depending on the difficulty of the Quest, the adventuring party can take 2-18 hours of ‘travel time’ before arriving at their destination. Upon arrival, the player directs the party around a randomized ‘dungeon’ to carry out the mission objective before the group makes their way back to the vault. Identically to exploring the wasteland, the return trip home takes half as long as the expedition out did.

 

Today's wait times in Fallout Shelter; 2 Hours, 14 Hours, 6 Hours.
Example wait times for Quests, displayed with the bounty awarded to the adventuring troupe upon completion.

 

 

NOT WAITING

Many of the time-gated activities within Fallout Shelter can be bypassed by spending a modest amount of ‘Nuka-Cola Quantum’ (hereafter Quantum) – a currency that may be obtained infrequently as an in-game reward for many of the activities available. Doled out sparingly, those that wish to avoid long waits for dwellers to undertake a time-intensive task also have the option to purchase Quantum for cash in the in-app store. Time restrictions that can be skipped with Quantum:

  • Crafting weapons
  • Crafting outfits
  • Returning from the wasteland
  • Travelling to a Quest
  • Returning home from a Quest
  • Stat training (only takes the dweller to the next stat point)
  • Customizing a dweller in the barber shop
  • Unlock all parts of a room Theme recipe

A shorter list may have been to note activities that cannot be rushed through by spending Quantum:

  • Rush resource rooms’ production
  • Speed up a pregnancy (three hours)
  • Hasten a child’s maturation (three hours)
  • Speed up the dwellers’ expedition out to the wasteland

 

In-app purchase (IAP) of consumables is not new to console gaming, but its prevalence pales in comparison to the mobile market that is largely supported through microtransactions. Electronic Arts has dabbled in embedding IAP to extend some of their titles’ financial reach (Dead Space 3 offered IAP for crafting materials, Mass Effect 3 supported its multiplayer development with booster packs that unlocked various pieces of equipment/consumables), but the practice, as noted, has been primarily left to the mobile market. Fallout Shelter sits in a curious position, however – a mobile game, deployed on console (without an up-front cost), supported by purchases borne of a desire for convenience.

 

Bundles of Nuka-Cola Quantum available for sale from $1.39 - $139.99
Nuka-Cola Quantum available for sale via in-app purchases. Note that you can avoid playing the game in varying denominations up to $140 CAD.

 

 

WAITING .. ON .. CONSOLE?

You may recall that this discussion piece is focused on how the mobile-centric gameplay elements of Fallout Shelter fall short of delivering a compelling experience to the console player. The conversation makes that move now, with the deployment of Fallout Shelter to the Xbox and Windows 10 stores on February 7, 2017. As a Mac user with Windows 8.1 on a separate partition, I did not have access to a Windows 10 device to weigh and compare against its Xbox One companion – understand that the remainder of this article features the perspective of a console player.

In booting up the game, the exact same Fallout Shelter present on mobile platforms makes itself available for console play as it had in the handheld version. The control mechanics, adapted from touch-based input have been shifted to a heavy use of joysticks to pan the camera/select dwellers and a handful of button/d-pad inputs to cover contextual commands such as upgrading rooms or zooming the camera in and out. These new controls, limiting as they are, do not serve as the primary detractor from my enjoyment of Fallout Shelter in its console form.

Where Fallout Shelter comes up short is in a curious turn of events – the game is exactly the same as it was before being ported. Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor was missing the nemesis version in the previous-generation release, so the Xbox 360/PS3 version suffered for it. The re-release of Payday 2: Crimewave Edition on current-gen console, assumed by many to be a GoTY-style bundle was somewhat of a letdown when more paid DLC was announced for a second pass at the game.

Fallout Shelter remains as it did on the mobile platform, mobilization and all. In that, the gameplay mechanics (‘wait X minutes to train Strength to 7’, or ‘wait Y minutes until the adventuring party arrives at the Super Duper Mart’) that work well on mobile continue to drive the gameplay progression forward, yet root the player to a physically-confined space (their living room, for example).

In order to check on the vault, I must carry out a series of minor tasks that contribute to an overall delay in accessing gameplay that has traditionally been quite rapid in its accessibility. To open my vault on a phone (iPhone 7), start-to-finish, is roughly 35 seconds. On Xbox One, it’s the better part of five minutes before the game is open and ready for play. Then, in the first few moments, all of the ‘Ready!’ dwellers must be selected before they continue their next training session, else it’s time wasted that could be made progressing the stat-building.

The game, on mobile, played quite well into the hands of those that wishes for small bites of gametime; perfect for the mobile platform carried in our pockets. The player could be waiting on coffee to brew, waiting for or travelling on the bus, or any number of ‘idle’ periods throughout the day that may only add up to a few minutes. For the Xbox One version, however, players must dedicate their full attention and time to the game by manner of settling in to their console’s environment.

Never before have I experienced a console gaming experience that limited the player’s access to content for a period of real-world time. Some later titles in the Assassin’s Creed franchise had the player send out NPC parties to trade, train, or otherwise engage in some menial task that did not directly impact gameplay beyond the rewards they brought back with them. Fallout Shelter, a beast unto itself, it seems, is perfectly content in forcing the player to wait for 2-18 hours until they can play some part of the game, only to wait half that amount again before the reward is usable by dwellers of the vault. The only option for the player to bypass the time limits is by spending a modest amount of Nuka-Cola Quantum.

 

ACKNOWLEDGING PALTRY GRIEVANCES

With the anecdotal/experiential evidence listed above, it becomes difficult to convey an argument without inciting the feeling of ‘first world problems’, such as waiting ‘too long’ to get into a free(mium) game. I fully embrace the idea that patience is a virtue unto itself, and try to extend that to my gaming attitude as well. Where the experience falls short, however, is in how mobilization aspects of Fallout Shelter betray the physical requirements of console gaming despite simultaneously embracing those of mobile platforms. Fallout Shelter was built from the ground up for mobile devices and mobile-centric gameplay focus; quick, digestible, periods of gameplay. Perhaps it should have stayed there.

 

 

Author: Markus Piil

A staunch supporter of the technical arts, Markus has been working as a software developer for two startup tech companies in Western Canada. Gaming aside, he likes adventuring in the mountains, camping with the wife, and playing metal tunes on the guitar.

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