With titles like “An Evening with Mr. Manchester” and “To Sleep, perchance to dream,” Dustin Jackson’s Fallout 3 mods immediately stand out from the pack. Creating quests that take players on a story-driven ride through hand-crafted puzzles, Jackson — who goes by the handle “Puce Moose” — has gained a steady stream of followers eager to play through his next adventure.
A resident of Eastern Tennessee, the 35-year-old Jackson recently finished up his latest accomplishment — a Masters degree in Biology. We dissected his modding experience in the following interview, which also includes a number of excellent Fallout 3 mod recommendations, and a tease of his next project.
How did you get started modding? Can you talk about your first project?
Fallout and Fallout 2 are two of my favorite games; I eagerly anticipated Fallout 3, though I had my concerns that the incorporation of real-time combat would be a tragic mistake for the series. Thankfully this turned out not to be the case, and I dove into the game with relish. With any game that I enjoy I generally look around and see if any modding capabilities exist; it didn’t take me long to start sniffing around the GECK to see if I could carve out a few changes in the bleak wasteland.
A Note Easily Missed was my first project. It was born from an online image search that yielded a spectacular image; a stylized tiger firing a machine gun into the air. The wheels started turning and I wondered if I could bring this image into the Fallout world. After slowly working my way through the GECK Vault tutorial I used it as a base to expand it into the Tiger facility. In fact, the cell name for the Tiger Manufacturing facility in A Note Easily Missed is still named ‘vault 88′.
I’ve always been interested in the lives of the ‘ordinary man’ before the war, so I endeavored to reconstruct the lives of a small group of people and their relationships as a small cog in the corporate machine. Room by room the Tiger facility grew into a place where I could open a small window for the player to explore the lives and dreams of these people.
How intimidating was the prospect of modding, initially?
The GECK was a rather scary mass of buttons and menus, but carefully inching my way through the tutorials helped a great deal. The fact that the various buttons have tooltips is a lifesaver. The dialog system remained inscrutable to me for a long time; it wasn’t until my third mod that I finally cracked it and incorporated some ‘standard’ dialog into my mods.
Your series of Fallout 3 quest mods contains very little combat. Are you generally a fan of nonviolent games — or at least games that allow for a less-violent approach?
I think that giving players different ways to tackle situations makes for more engaging, realistic situations. There’s just not that many games that routinely offer the player the ability to resolve situations through speech options. The fact that Fallout takes place in a shattered wasteland also contributed to my desire to craft adventures that focus on the remnants of lives before the war instead of combat. I like the thought of wandering ravaged cities, picking my way through rubble, and then intently reading a note about which flavor of frosting a grandma was trying to decide to use on a birthday cake on two hundred years ago. A study in contrasts.
How did you play through Fallout 3? Did you take the passive approach?
In nearly every game I play I typically gravitate toward a stealthy, smart, talkative small-weapons type if the option is available, and Fallout is no exception. I think if I had to resolve a situation through speech options I always elected to do so, unless the speech choices only gave me an option to be a jerk. I’m generally a bit of a chicken that way; I just don’t enjoy playing the ‘bad guy.’ When conflict is unavoidable I prefer sniper rifles and pistols. I typically don’t use ‘big guns’ and shy away from automatic weaponry unless I’m out of options. I do enjoy grenades and a well-placed mine, however.
Do you find it more challenging to develop a mod that focuses on puzzles and exploration, rather than combat?
I think it does present some unique challenges, especially with the puzzles. In a combat-focused mod, you can always change the game’s difficulty setting if an encounter is too easy or too difficult. With puzzles, there’s not an easy way to dial the challenge up or down for individual preference.
What projects are currently consuming your time?
Currently moving into a new house is taking up most of my free time; with any luck I’ll be done with that within a week or so. I spent most of my 2009 gaming time modding Fallout, so I’m planning to kick back and play a few games that I missed. That said, I do have one more Fallout mod that is about 80% done; it’s kind of an odd duck, combining a ‘Puce-style’ quest portion, some balance modules, and some new items to add a bit of spice and randomness to ‘loot drops.’ There’s also a bit of voice work of me pretending to be an elderly ghoul woman, which will hopefully give players a chuckle. There’s no ETA at present, though realistically I imagine I’ll have it ready by the end of February or early March.
Can you name a few of the Fallout 3 mods you’ve currently got installed?
Time to boot up the good old Fallout Mod Manager; let’s see what we have here.
Mart’s Mutant Mod: A classic mod that adds welcome variety to the beasties that roam the wastes. It’s hard to imagine playing the game without it.
Enhanced Weather – Rain & Snow: I love rainy days in real life and find that this fondness extends to the games I play. A well-deserved mod of the month winner.
Deadly Turrets & Improved Turret Hacking: Ever since the days of System Shock 2 (probably my favorite game of all time) I’ve enjoyed stationary defenses and hacking them to turn on my aggressors.These two mods make turrets vicious and provides more hacking options for them.
Existence 2.0: Fantastic creepy robotic radio station – with a quest! The amount of time that went into this one is commendable; professionally done.
Savage Wasteland: Fewer Gun-wielding maniacs – dramatically reduces the frequency of… well, gun-wielding maniacs. Most raiders have melee weapons only, which makes sense; two hundred years after the fall you’d thinking properly functioning firearms would be a valuable commodity.
SS Creature Compendium: This mod adds several new creatures to the wasteland, as well as numerous customization options for them. Excellent work on the new creatures, and it seems to play nicely with Mart’s Mutant Mod as well.
EVE: Spruces up energy weapon visuals and introduces some alarming (and entertaining) death effects.
AzarGypsyOutfits: Adds some wonderfully done new gypsy outfits and a new character with a nice full dialog tree.
TenpennyGhoulsAtPeace: Allows a peaceful resolution to Mr. Tenpenny’s ghoul problem.
What other games are you playing and/or modding?
Currently I’ve been enjoying King’s Bounty: The Legend and King’s Bounty: Armored Princess. If you enjoyed the old Heroes of Might and Magic games you’ll enjoy these; beautiful, vibrant worlds bursting with ambient life and some fun spells. Hooray for turn-based combat!
Also, like many I’m starting my journey through Mass Effect 2. While I’m disappointed at some of the content they’ve removed (no more Mako exploration! I always enjoyed those segments) it has the same top-notch writing and it looks like it’s setting up a nice twisting plot.