Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3

Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3
Ultimart, Desember 2011, hal 97-106                                                           Vol. IV, Nomor 2
                 ISSN 1979-0716

                            Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3
                                                     ANGELA MCCARTHY *)
                                                           TRAVIS YATES *)
                                                 YUSUP MARTYASTIADI *); **)

                 *) Multimedia Games Development, James Cook University, Australia
                 **) Lecturer at Faculty of Arts & Design, Universitas Multimedia Nusantara, Indonesia

                                                       Diterima: 28 November 2011
                                                       Disetujui: 5 Desember 2011

                      Game play cannot purely rely on in game navigational tools. Players need some visual aid and cues in or-
                 der to guide their game play. Players should make use of all available game elements in order to effectively play
                 the game, for instance, visual cues that could be explicit, such as signs and general directions given directly
                 to the player.
                      This paper describes and observes the visual representations of the Fallout 3 game. The observation finds
                 the guide of the players’ navigational path within the game world, the use of game navigational utilities, tuto-
                 rials, visual representation and cues.

                 Keywords: Fallout 3 game, visual representation, visual cues, player’s experiment, game naviga-
                           tional utilities

                                  Introduction                            slot into the Role Play Game (RPG) or Adven-
                                                                          ture genres. The numerous RPG/Adventure
                 Over the years, video games for both the PC and
                                                                          games include Mass-Multiplayer Online RPGs
                 console have developed immensely, growing
                                                                          (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcra (WoW),
                 from basic black and white games, to the first
                                                                          Guild Wars, Warhammer Online to name a few,
                 8-bit colour games which in turn developed with
                                                                          and on the consoles there are several RPGs that
                 more colour into the 2D games. Those 2D games
                                                                          feature large game worlds which include games
                 then progressed to the expansive and immersive
                                                                          such as Oblivion, Fable 2, Viking: Ba le for As-
                 complete 3D virtual worlds that we see today,
                                                                          gard and Fallout 3.
                 where, even now, the level of detail is becom-
                 ing closer to reality. In these large game worlds,
                 people become players, taking control over an
                                                                          Overview of Game
                 avatar or ‘player character’ as they enter these         The game that was selected for analysis and
                 game worlds and engage in the act of play. There         critique of visual representation was Fallout 3.
                 are a variety of different games which have large         Fallout 3 was released on 28th of October 2008 by
                 and expansive environments, many of which                Bethesda So works for the PC, XBox 360, and

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98   Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3                                            VOL IV, 2011

                 PLAYSTATION 3. It’s rated MA15+ [Restricted]                    player get his/her Pip-Boy 3000. It’s a cleverly
                 by the Office of Film and Literature Classification               veiled character creation and tutorial sequence
                 (OFLC) for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence,                    that sets the backdrop of the story. The player
                 Sexual References, Strong Language, and Drug                    lives in Vault 101, a bunker designed to keep its
                 References. Fallout 3 is an open-world RPG, com-                occupants alive through the nuclear war that
                 bined with elements of a First-Person Shooter                   ravaged the surface, however, this vault did not
                 (FPS), where players can immerse themselves in                  reopen when the war finished and as the open-
                 the expansive game world, taking on numerous                    ing cinematic informs you. It is here, within the
                 missions and quests, as well as interacting with                Vault, that you will die because nobody ever en-
                 non-player characters (NPCs) both hostile and                   ters or leaves Vault 101. As the player progresses
                 non-hostile. The Fallout universe paints a picture              through the level, it reaches the end of the player’s
                 of a dystopian future; taking place in the Capi-                childhood where he/she awake to alarm and con-
                 tol Wasteland in and around Washington, DC in                   fusion. The player’s father has opened the vault
                 2277, 200 years a er the bombs fell and 30 years                entrance and taken flight, a fellow Vault member
                 a er Fallout 2 took place. It exists in what people             has been killed as a result of it and the fragile
                 on the cusp of the atomic revolution in the 1950s               existence of the other vault inhabitants has been
                 saw as the sci-fi world of tomorrow, if several                 sha ered. Through a sequence of events, and the
                 thousand nuclear bombs were dropped on it. It’s                 choice between life and death, the player ends
                 a quaint sci-fi view of a future filled with atomic             up having to leave Vault 101. Once stepping out
                 cars, robot servants, and incredibly basic com-                 onto the surface it is here that the search begins
                 puter terminals. A nuclear war has taken away                   for the player’s father out in the wastes, and then
                 most of these technological comforts, providing                 the explorations of the game continue outside of
                 the backdrop for a game with a dreary, desperate                the Vault 101.
                 atmosphere filled with glib and dark humour.
                                                                                 Semantics of the Fallout 3 Game World
                                                                                 in Context of Game Play
                                                                                 Fallout 3 uses two perspectives, first and third per-
                                                                                 son, where the player can toggle the view with
                                                                                 the press of a bu on/key to an over-the-shoulder
                                                                                 view that can be zoomed in/out on the player’s
                                                                                 character. Both views are available throughout
                                                                                 the entire game and help aid the player in a va-
                                                                                 riety of different ways. By using the first person
                                                                                 perspective/point-of-view (POV), the player is
                                                                                 able to aim at targets easier and be er interact
                                                                                 with objects at close range, whereas the third
                                                                                 person POV gives the player a larger expansive
                                                                                 view of the area around them, and also any NPCs
                                                                                 that are out of the characters field of vision (such
                                                                                 as enemies sneaking up behind the character).
                                                                                 Players are able to flick between the different
                                  (Bethesda/One Tiny Spark, 2009)                views in order to utilise different playing strate-
                                                                                 gies, in order to obtain their winning strategy.
                     The game begins with the player’s birth and                      Players can engage in the Fallout game across
                 then quickly moves through childhood with                       three different platforms, being the PLAYSTA-
                 snapshots of pivotal events, such as the day the                TION 3, Xbox 360 and PC, the first two platforms

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Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3     ANGELA MCHARTY, TRAVIS YATES, YUSUP MARTYASTIADI              99

                 making use of controllers and the last platform                         on equal ground when it came to in-game play.
                 making use of a mouse and keyboard setup. On                            There are two main areas of play for Fallout 3. The
                 all the platforms however, players are able to al-                      first area is contained inside a fallout shelter. The
                 ter the controls to their specific taste, in order to                   game is very restrictive in this environment and
                 grant themselves an advantage in game.                                  specific tasks need to be completed in a specific
                      Within the Fallout 3 game, there are a num-                        order. The second section is in a huge wasteland.
                 ber of different skills and utilities available to the                   This area is a more appropriate region of play as
                 player to make use of in game, each combination                         players can have more freedom to explore and
                 yielding different effects, strengths and weak-                           do whatever tasks they may choose.
                 nesses. Such utilities include the Vault-Tec As-                             Observations of the players (see Appen-
                 sisted Targeting System (VATS), in-game com-                            dix) were recorded as the selected player went
                 pass, large scale world map, Pip-Boy 3000 and                           through the game, checking for interactions such
                 the ability at different points in game to alter                         as state in the game, and state in reality/outside
                 their skillset. All of these utilities combined to-                     the game. The game was played upon the Xbox
                 gether, as well as the control system, all help the                     360 platform, with all players using default con-
                 player in their game play.                                              trols. A variety of different experiments were
                                                                                         conducted with the players to test how the play-
                                                                                         er can traverse and navigate through the game
                 Observation Methods
                                                                                         world, making use of the utilities provided or
                 The selected group that played Fallout 3 consist-                       making use of the environment surrounding the
                 ed of three different players, one female and two                        player. At first, inside the Vault, the player was
                 males of different ages, and also having a mix of                        to complete the missions and quests without
                 prior gaming knowledge (both with and with-                             the use of any of the in-game navigational items
                 out). All players in the selected group had never                       such as the map and compass, however, due to
                 played Fallout 3 previously, so all players were                        the nature of the Vault, where the majority of the

                                                                              Figure 1: First POV
                                                           (Bethesda/GameSpotAU, Screenshot–Desolate Wasteland, 2008)

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                 environment looks the same; all players had to                     rate levels of the Vault made it difficult to work
                 resort to using the navigational tools provided.                   out how to get designated locations.
                                                                                         On the final mission of the first level, Player
                 Player’s Experimental Excursions                                   B then took over the game, automatically switch-
                                                                                    ing over to third POV (see Figure 2: Third POV)
                 There were a number of experimental excursions
                                                                                    upon gaining control of the character. Player B
                 that the players had to go through in order to
                                                                                    preferred third POV in non combat mode as they
                 get an idea of contrast between playing meth-                      found the ability to view their characters position
                 ods when traversing through unfamiliar terrain.                    within the game to be a great advantage, though
                 Through the initial levels of the game, Player                     Player B would o en switch back to first POV
                 A (keeping within first POV [see Figure 1: First                   when facing combat, finding that it was easier
                 POV] the whole time) was able to follow other                      to aim. Player B explored through the different
                 characters to get to specific checkpoints, so not                  levels of the complex to get an idea where loca-
                 much navigation was required. Eventually the                       tions were in game, making use of navigational
                 game got to a point where the player needed to                     utilities, in-game visual cues and memory of pre-
                 escape into the wasteland. It became more dif-                     viously visited locations. Player B found using
                 ficult at this point. The shelter was on two dif-                  the compass to be confusing and preferred us-
                 ferent levels and it was hard for the player to                    ing the large map to get an idea of their location
                 determine where they were. Initially, Player A                     and set destination, making use of the map’s ‘set
                 avoided using any navigational utilities in game,                  destination point’ utility to figure out ways to
                 rather relying on visual cues such as directional                  go around in game obstacles such as walls and
                 signs and general exploration. Ultimately, due to                  locked doors. One particular in game object that
                 the difficulty of navigating within the monoto-                      was to be located was a set of keys which were
                 nous environment of the Vault, Player A resorted                   hidden in the Overseers bedroom. Both Player
                 to using the compass. The compass directed the                     A, B and C a empted to find the room, however
                 player in the right direction however the sepa-                    only Player B succeeded in reaching the desig-

                                                                         Figure 2: Third POV
                                                            (Bethesda/GameSpotAU, Screenshot–Enemy, 2008)

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Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3   ANGELA MCHARTY, TRAVIS YATES, YUSUP MARTYASTIADI        101

                 nated location (and as a result, escape the Vault)                scribed the area and gave landmarks to look
                 through the use of the in game map.                               for, most of which, at some point or another, the
                                                                                   player would have passed when exploring the
                 Navigation through use of Visual Cues                             game world.
                                                                                        With the combination of the visual cues in
                 Once the players were outside of the Vault, all
                                                                                   conjunction with verbal clues mentioned above
                 players (A, B and C) were able to easily travel
                                                                                   it was possible for the player to find a specific
                 through the game world, finding it easy to rec-                   game object quite easily, in which case, their task
                 ognise where they were, as well as travel to a                    was to find the nuclear bomb, which the player
                 particular destination then back to their point of                found effectively within a few minutes. The fact
                 origin, both with and without the use of the in                   that it was a large object may have made it easier
                 game navigational utilities, but rather, making                   than some other missions. Sign posts helped find
                 use of visual cues in the surrounding environ-                    characters that gave clues to the bomb’s where-
                 ment.                                                             abouts, but there were no signs to the bomb it-
                     The players found a number of visual cues                     self. It was found by directing the player to a
                 to help them traverse unfamiliar terrain, which                   higher vantage point. The use of 3D techniques
                 included:                                                         to give a longer field of view when the player
                 a) Paths–Either worn paths with light shading,                    was higher was the biggest help. When switched
                     or for steep paths, wooden logs were laid                     to third POV the camera viewed from above and
                     sideways over the path. These paths helped                    also gave a wider range of view. This helped find
                     steer the players away from extraneous ar-                    objects that were just out of the field on view us-
                     eas.                                                          ing first POV.
                 b) Sign posts–Small sign posts were discretely                         The large scale map was not needed to re-
                     placed on the poles near the corners of build-                turn to a point of origin. Here sign posts and
                     ings. These helped show the player which                      paths were the biggest help. By reading sign
                     paths to take.                                                posts Player B could firstly identify where they
                 c) Signs–Signs over the doors of buildings.                       were and later read sign posts to return to that
                     These helped confirm the player was in the                    point. The other main help and visual cues were
                     right area or could be used as landmarks.                     the paths. By following paths and remembering
                                                                                   which turns were made it was easier to return
                 d) Ramps–Ramps with guardrails were identi-
                                                                                   to the starting point. The use of 3D techniques
                     fied and made navigation easier. These had
                                                                                   to give the illusion of a rising and or falling
                     a similar effect to paths but o en helped
                                                                                   landscape also helped navigation. By travel-
                     the viewer rise and get a clearer view of the
                                                                                   ling downhill for a period the player was able to
                     game layout.
                                                                                   know that they must be travelling uphill to get
                 e) 3D Linear Perspective–By adjusting the view
                     of the elements in the game to match the
                     characters first POV as the character moves
                     it helped give the illusion of 3D.                            Techniques Used to Provide the Illusion
                 f) 3D Shading and light–Shading helped iden-                      of 3D
                     tify upward and downward slopes, light                        The Fallout 3 environment is an expansive 3D
                     sources coming from specific regions could                    world which is enhanced by the level of graphics
                     also be used as a reference and help keep the                 and the technology provided on the third-gener-
                     player orientated.                                            ation consoles and high level graphics technol-
                                                                                   ogy in gaming PCs. There are a number of dif-
                     Verbal clues were also used to assist with                    ferent illusory 3D techniques which have been
                 navigation. Characters that the player met de-                    applied in game, such as object illusory depth

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102   Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3                                              VOL IV, 2011

                 (using both linear and non-linear perspective),                     illusory object volume and use of long textures,
                 differential brightness, composition and colour,                     colours and gradients.

                                                                          Figure 3: The Pitt
                                                            (Bethesda/GameSpotAU, Screenshot–The Pitt, 2008)

                      In Figure 3: The Pi there are a number of                      identified as being high through the use of shad-
                 different qualities in the image that demonstrates                   ows and gradients, as well as illusory depth us-
                 a variety of different techniques to provide the                     ing non-linear perspective, in order to gain a bet-
                 illusion of 3D. The image makes use of illusory                     ter field of view of their environment. From the
                 depth using linear perspective by having objects                    high vantage point, Player B was able to see the
                 and subjects in the background becoming pro-                        pulsing bomb, which was suggested to be in the
                 gressively smaller the ’further back’ it is, as well                distance due to its size and also the clarity of the
                 as making use of illusory depth in a non-linear                     object, having appeared somewhat ’faded’, as if
                 perspective such as the construction of buildings                   in the distance.
                 and other numerous architecture. Differential                             The Fallout environment makes use of illu-
                 brightness is also used to connote environmental                    sory depth using both linear and non-linear per-
                 qualities, in particular, the presence of dust and                  spective through objects in the environment, as
                 smoke, where any lighted object, when shining                       stated earlier and seen below in Figure 4: Player
                 appears to be somewhat blurred and faded, as                        and Dog, where objects in the background ap-
                 per the environment.                                                pear smaller and also hold 3D qualities such as
                      When Player B was given the task of find-                      depth through the use of gradients and shadow-
                 ing the nuclear bomb using visual cues, Player B                    ing which gives the effect of illusory object vol-
                 made use of their environment in order to gain                      ume. Differential brightness, composition and
                 an understanding first of where they were, then                     colour also helps portray environmental quali-
                 secondly, where the bomb may be. The player                         ties, as seen above in Figure 1: First POV and be-
                 used a high vantage point, which was easily                         low in Figure 4: Player and Dog where all objects

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Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3    ANGELA MCHARTY, TRAVIS YATES, YUSUP MARTYASTIADI             103

                 in the background appear faded, which not only                          seen to fade into the distance, textures upon the
                 helps portray distance, but also suggests that                          ground start out hard and defined before fading
                 the environment is filled with dust and smoke                           out into lighter colours, giving the impression
                 which gives the player the impression that the                          that they’ve been worn through and contrasting
                 environment is very dry. The use of long textures,                      colours are used with each other to differentiate
                 colours and gradients are used across all objects                       between different environments; in particular,
                 in the game, as well as characters. The sky is                          light and dark.

                                                                           Figure 4: Player and Dog
                                                          (Bethesda/GameSpotAU, Screenshot–Player and “Dogmeat”, 2008)

                 Conclusion                                                              must make use of all available in game elements
                 It is thoroughly clear that game play cannot                            in order to effectively play the game. In particu-
                 purely rely on in game navigational tools and                           lar, Fallout 3 has demonstrated that it makes su-
                 that players need some sort of visual aid and                           perior use of its environment in order to guide,
                 cues in order to guide their game play. Whether                         help and teach players navigation within the
                 these visual cues be explicit, such as signs and                        world, making use of in game navigational utili-
                 general directions given directly to the player, or                     ties, tutorials and most importantly, visual repre-
                 more subtle such as worn away paths, players                            sentation and cues.

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104    Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3                                           VOL IV, 2011


                 Taken by Angela McCarthy and Travis Yates
                 Participants: Angela McCarthy, Travis Yates and Yusup Martyastiadi.

                                   State in Game                                                  Player State
                   Cinema c started playing                                Player skipped cinema c
                   Select Gender                                           Boy–made a small laugh/sound of amusement
                   As cinema c playing                                     Player gazes at screen, then control, scratches head
                                                                           before looking back at game
                   Name Select                                             Chickenhouse
                   Player Visual crea on                                   Player selected basic haircut, changed to grey, then
                                                                           started selec ng facial hair, looking at different
                                                                           op ons, player then looked through complete list
                                                                           before picking any and proceeding
                                                                      ONE YEAR LATER
                   Cinema c                                                Player tried skipping, game wouldn’t let them skip
                                                                    CONTROLS TUTORIAL
                   You’re Special Book                                     Player experimented with different bu ons on control
                                                                           pad before finding triggers to open book
                                                                           Player flicked through book casually before hi ng
                                                                           the skills altera on sec on, played around with skills,
                                                                           dropping them all down to one before distribu ng
                                                                           them as appropriate
                                                                     NINE YEARS LATER
                   Looking at op ons
                   Looking at presents                                         Player had op on to select a date with someone,
                                                                               laughed at it, but then selected something else
                   Exploring party room                                        Talked with several characters, exploring the different
                                                                               op ons, every now and again skipping through
                   Player open up wrist band (Pip Boy)                         Looking through different op ons, ”What the ****
                                                                               does this do?”
                   Player tried going through door                             Player
                   Naviga ng through Vault                                     Player moves around, and makes a comment about
                                                                               the arrow poin ng to the direc on to go
                   Character tells player to wait another minute for           ”For ****’s sake, I don’t want to wait another minute”
                   Player given BB Gun                                       Player made comment about finally ge ng something
                   Player shoo ng                                            Shoots father out of curiosity, laughs in amusement
                                                                             upon realising it’s possible to shoot other characters
                                                                       SIX YEARS LATER
                   Player told to go and take GOAT                           ”Okay, geez, I get the idea.”

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Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3    ANGELA MCHARTY, TRAVIS YATES, YUSUP MARTYASTIADI            105

                   Player si ng down for GOAT                                     Player looks around for things to do before going and
                                                                                  si ng down. Sees Amata character and goes up to
                                                                                  talk to her, but character responds nega vely. Makes
                                                                                  comment about shoo ng her in the back of the head.
                                                                                  When wai ng for test, makes comment, ”Come on!
                                                                                  Start already.” Sits back in chair, leaning head back on
                   Going through test                                             Makes comment ”It’s mostly logic”. Last ques on,
                                                                                  laughed at responses (4x ”The Overseer”). Picks skills,
                                                                                  concentra ng on a ack style skills
                                                                           THREE YEARS LATER
                   Cinema c to wake up                                            Player goes through following op ons
                   Runs into Radroaches                                           Player trying to figure out where gun is, can only
                                                                                  punch, ”Gun, where the hell has my gun gone?”
                   When asked to help another character                           Helps character even a er first saying no
                   Takes clothes from dead character                              Laughs when character is le without clothes
                   Player trying to figure out where to go                        Exploring, doing different tasks along the way
                   Player opens up Pip-boy                                        Player figures out by going through different menus
                                                                                  how to equip gun. Kills two guards, ”Now we’re ge ng
                                                                                  some stuff”, while pilfering guard’s bodies
                   Switched to 3rd POV
                   Tried some doors but locked                                     Made tu noise with mouth
                   Opened door to vault                                            Leaned back in chair and brushed hair back
                   Found visual clue to classroom and followed it                  Made a tu noise when no skills found
                   Checked map and read quest, followed compass                    Said ”Damn it!”
                   got to a locked door
                   Opened door to security and shot Overseer in leg
                                                                  Leaned back in chair said ”oops”. Pressed bu ons
                   then died                                      fran cally, ”You can’t kill the Overseer that’s crap, this
                                                            NEW LIFE STARTED
                   Picking lock, tried a few mes                  ”I broke it”, watched very carefully, let out groan
                   Making use of Naviga onal Features in game     Outside environment failed, compass failed, map s ll
                                                                  hard because of doors and different levels eventually
                                                                  used walkthrough–Player complained about compass
                                                                  being difficult to navigate with, also used placed points
                                                                  on map to aid in naviga on, ”Damn walls and doors
                                                                  keep blocking the path.”
                                                       FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS
                   Player escaped Vault, moving camera around     Looks at rocks, pathways, walking along as exploring.
                   looking at environment                         Player then finds a worn path and water hole. Chooses
                                                                  to go right up path, following the pathway
                   Walking in game                                Finds narrow worn path lighter than normal

                                                                   Finds cow follows it for a bit then leaves it
                   Sound in game changes and buildings in the area Sound cue turns to right and finds Lucas Simms
                   begin to increase                               Mission starts

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106    Analysis & Critique of Visual Representation: Fallout 3                                                VOL IV, 2011

                   Player talks with character in game, is given                   Ge ng interac on with the characters you’re given
                   instruc ons                                                     landmarks to help iden fy visual clues, ”Well, that’s
                                                                                   good. I can look for things easier now.”
                   Explora on of town                                              Player walks down worn path a er looking around
                                                                                   360 in surrounding area, goes exploring around,
                                                                                   looking around for an objec ve
                   Look for bomb                                                   Don’t want to fall down slope, but it looks low, so I’m
                                                                                   gonna go down. I saw the bomb earlier from above
                   Player NarraƟng Thoughts as Traversing through                  so I’m heading towards it. But I can see, ... basically,
                   Game World                                                      the city is around everything and you have everything
                                                                                   above and around. There’s a sign that shows where
                                                                                   everything is. Basically, the way to follow paths,
                                                                                   there’s bits of wood to show that it’s a path, there’s
                                                                                   liƩle signs, some half hidden, that you can read and
                                                                                   tell where you are. And there are also signs above the
                                                                                   door, so it’s not too bad. Talking with the character,
                                                                                   got a Ɵp from some dude on how to get some ****.


                 Bethesda/GameSpotAU. (2008, October 28).                            Bethesda/One Tiny Spark. (2009, January 28).
                     Screenshot–Desolate Wasteland. Retrieved                            Fallout 3. Retrieved April 11, 2009, from One
                     April 10, 2009, from GameSpotAU: h p://                             Tiny Spark: h p://onetinyspark.files.word-
                 Bethesda/GameSpotAU. (2008, October 28).                            Kevin VanOrd, GameSpotAU. (2008, October
                     Screenshot–Enemy. Retrieved April 10, 2009,                         29). Fallout 3 Review for Xbox360. Retrieved
                     from GameSpotAU: h p://                              April 6, 2009, from GameSpotAU: h p://
                 Bethesda/GameSpotAU. (2008, December 12).                     
                     Screenshot–Player and “Dogmeat”. Retrieved                      Angela McCarthy, Travis Yates. (2009, April 6).
                     April 10, 2009, from GameSpotAU: h p://                             Fallout 3 Observations. See Appendix.
                                                            Lars Kalland/Nicola Bidwell. (2009, January).
                 Bethesda/GameSpotAU. (2008, December 3).                                CP3410 Lecture Notes. Retrieved April 6,
                     Screenshot–The Pi . Retrieved April 10, 2009,                       2009.
                     from GameSpotAU: h p://

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