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Meet the Fallout 76 fans making better quests and stories than Bethesda

The Fallout 76 fan film community is thriving

Fallout 76 Power Helmet shown at Bethesda’s E3 2018 booth.
Fallout 76 Power Helmet shown at Bethesda’s E3 2018 booth
Photo: Ross Miller/Polygon

There are a couple of ways to join the Enclave in Fallout 76. In the Bethesda way, you go through the in-game quest of finding notes and keycards and eventually stumbling across the government base and its malevolent AI. The role-play way, as devised by fans, is something else entirely. You may encounter some Enclave Armed Forces propaganda, which leads you to the Discord and its in-character channels. From there, players can join up with the famous Fallout faction and receive custom quests with in-game videos, voice-acted messages, and personalized content.

Making that content requires specific film and editing skills. Sometimes, it means producing propaganda for a specific faction to try and influence a long-running war between hundreds of players. Other times, it’s to create a quest cutscene that only a dozen people might see. Some players are so inspired by the original quest content that they try to reinterpret, retell, or share it with a wider audience.

There’s a rich heritage of fan films that goes well beyond Fallout 76, thanks to the franchise’s popularity and unique retro-futuristic visual flair. Players and artists have used the series as a launching point for creative ventures before, including live action fan films and detailed animated shorts.

Bethesda has also been continually adding new quest content to Fallout 76, but the company’s efforts are limited by the engine. Before the Wastelanders update, the game’s stories were limited to audio logs and skeletons in the world. Even with the new quest content, NPCs are often limited or locked in place, and stories are kept in small instanced zones. Players don’t have such limitations.

Into the Mystery, for example, is a fan-made film series that retells the story of an in-game faction that perished tragically before the game’s events began. Within the actual game, the storyline is easy to miss, which makes it fertile ground for role-players looking to pen more narratives.

Into the Mystery is a collaboration between fans known as RifleGaming, Vaultist and Bloodied Mess. They are retelling the story, with a longtime lore character taking the starring role. The series retells the story of the Mistress of Mystery and her wayward daughter. Despite collaborating with other creators, Bloodied Mess does not have filming or creative experience. Instead, he learned he could use Fallout 76 as a set as he experimented with his CAMP.

CAMPs are customizable player bases, like a post-apocalyptic version of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Players’ CAMPs designate where they can build in the world, though the game gives the player a budget that limits how many buildings or items can be placed in the overworld. These areas will then appear to other players on the same server. Players who want the most elaborate homes quickly learn to exploit the game so they can build more impressive CAMPs.

“I learned you could get under the [environment’s 3D] mesh relatively simply, and that changed how I played the game,” Bloodied Mess told Polygon in a call over Discord. Players love tricks like carefully glitching walls back to back so they can apply wallpaper to each side. By using these kinds of workarounds, Bloodied Mess was able to start building elaborate props and sets. “For about six months, I started to release little vignettes or building videos — mathematical-based approaches to build [CAMPs.]”

His experience working with CAMP builds and sharing tricks like overlapping stairs and layered walls allowed him to create a giant Chinese Liberator bot, the communist equivalent of Liberty Prime. Other projects included massive nuclear reactors created with “the clip trick,” or CAMPs floating in the sky.

Those CAMPs earned him fan cred, which he used to network with other content creators. The Fallout 76 community exists outside of the game itself, on platforms like Discord, and fans pitch in together for larger-scale creative endeavors.

Role-players are often the most eager filmmakers among the Fallout community. For instance, when Bethesda added a clean toilet to the game, the Enclave Armed Forces snapped the item up. From there, they began a propaganda campaign, promising clean indoor plumbing for the citizens of the Wasteland, with pictures of their own in-game bases adorned with sparkling toilets.

Officer Barnett, a longtime Fallout 76 community member, works with role-play groups to help create videos, but primarily collaborates with the Enclave Armed Forces. She and Jesse Jewell, the leader of the EAF, work together on public-facing, pro-Enclave, in-character videos meant for the greater community. But they also work on things that are just for members of the EAF as they go through individual storylines and quests in the game. At times, the leaders will sound the alarm on Discord, and a dozen players will all log on to become impromptu cameras, power armor-mounted lighting rigs, and props.

These stories aren’t meant for the public. They’re like cutscenes in a single-player game, except tailored for one specific person. It’s a personal amount of attention that is nearly impossible for developers to pull off, especially in a game as big as Fallout 76. For instance, a young and inexperienced recruit who has expressed interest in the Enclave will eventually get her own recruitment video, something that’s meant to start her arc in this new Wasteland faction. That’s an experience that takes a lot of work from the community, but creates a gaming experience that is difficult to find anywhere else.

It’s a reminder that Fallout 76 has come a long way after two years of development. That growth isn’t just because of the efforts of Bethesda, but because of the thriving fan community using the world as a canvas and film set for their own ideas.

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