December 1, 2023

Bobbys Brane

Bobbys Brane – Business & Tech Blog

“We got there in the end” – the creator of Fallout 4’s best Enclave quest mod reveals how it came to be

6 min read

“It’s a funny one,” modder Thomas Mitchell, aka Otellino, tells me, “the Enclave really are a pretty popular faction in the fandom despite the fact they’re objectively evil.

“I find them particularly interesting due to how much we don’t know about them!” he says, before listing a bunch of burning questions that have yet to be definitively answered regarding the power armour-wearing descendants of the pre-war US Government.

“When were they founded? We know the US President was on the Poseidon Oil Rig before the Great War so they’re obviously pre-war – but just how long have they existed for,” he asks. “Where else are they operating from? We knew about the Whitesprings Bunker, Raven Rock, Adams Air Force Base and, again, the Oil Rig – they clearly had a lot of secret facilities all around. Where else are they? In what capacity? Are they all but gone, or just licking their wounds?”

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For Mitchell, it’s this captivating aura of secrecy – coupled with “the fact they have a habit of making grand entrances and always have the coolest gear” – that makes the iconic Fallout faction the perfect subject to serve as the basis for mods.

Mitchell, whose Bethesda game modding life began when he was introduced to Oblivion’s Construction Set by a primary school friend, released ‘America Rising 2 – Legacy of the Enclave’ earlier this week. It’s a pretty huge quest mod that serves as a remake of ‘America Rising – A Tale of the Enclave’, a project which Mitchell originally put out back in 2017 and that has since become one of Fallout 4’s most popular quest mods. Both mods are based around the central premise of giving the Sole Survivor the chance to help The Enclave establish themselves as a faction to be reckoned with in The Commonwealth. However, America Rising 2 substantially builds on its predecessor in terms of depth and scale.

Across its 24-quest-long main storyline, you’ll encounter a cast of 25 fully voice acted unique characters and a bunch of new locations, with your choices dictating whether the faction rises or falls at your hand. There’s even a brand new ending to the base game’s main quest on offer at the end, if you do decide to become the beating heart of an Enclave powerhouse. As Mitchell explains, all of this came out of what was originally planned to be an update to the original America Rising mod, rather than an entirely new iteration.

Cover art for the America Rising mod in Fallout 4: five characters stand in a row, all looking proud - and like something from a US army propoganda workshop.

Yes, it even has its own cover art. | Image credit: Otellino

“I built America Rising 1 as part of my university dissertation [investigating] how modding can serve as a valid pathway into the game industry – and because of that I had to adhere to a hard deadline for my course,” the modder recalls. “It was also my first Fallout 4 mod and my first experience with Bethesda’s Papyrus scripting language, so there [were] a lot of bumbling around and mistakes being made!

“With America Rising 2, I had the luxury of time – which was very much a double edged sword. I knew I wanted the mod to balloon in scope, but I also knew I wanted to predominantly work on the mod solo, as I didn’t want to deal with the inherent stress that can come from trying to guide a modding team. So, I had to make sure while I grew the scope, it was still something I could actually make and finish.”

Having sketched out “a very rough plan” of what he wanted to achieve with this second crack at the mod, Otellino elected to work on improving his knowledge of Bethesda’s scripting language by creating some other script-heavy Fallout 4 and Skyrim mods.

“I felt very comfortable with general navigation, creating characters and level design – it was the scripting that I felt was my weakest point,” explains the modder, who also worked on some content for Fallout 4’s Creation Club content during this period. “I felt I just scraped by with America Rising, but I wanted to learn the ins and outs, [the] best practices [scripting-wise] before jumping onto America Rising 2, so I could create more complex – and hopefully less buggy – content.

“The more I learned, the more I realised how weak and scattered America Rising’s codebase was – and that’s when I took the decision to spin off America Rising 2 into its own project,” Mitchell says. “Bring over the characters, some select levels and general story beats, but otherwise rebuild the mod from the ground up. I also started paying for my own Jira [issue/task tracking] and Confluence [developer documentation] platforms so I could keep track of everything I was working on, everything I still had left to work on, and keep a living document with all my plans.”

“While I definitely could have done better with the planning aspect [of it], America Rising 2 was definitely better planned than 1, which was in essence a form of ‘organized chaos’ all the way through,” the modder reflects, “and while it took much longer than I expected, it was certainly ‘easier’ to work on with everything I had learned previously. [I] even managed to throw in some entirely unnecessary, yet pretty flashy, setpieces – like a moving ship cutscene!”

A character from America Rising 2 in Fallout 4.

Hope and glory. | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda/GeorgeMHarrison

So, the modder adapted the original America Rising’s story into a three-act tale that more closely mirrored the mission structures of Fallout 4’s vanilla factions, finding ways to ensure it could converge with the events of the game’s main quest at certain key points – such as dealing with Kellogg and getting into The Institute for the first time.

“I think the challenge of having to split the narrative up resulted in a much better overall story,” Mitchell tells me, “the pause in the story helps drive home the fact that this is an Enclave slowly rebuilding and gathering its strength before making its next move.” Plus, he adds that there’s now a chance for players to get to know a bit more about the backstory of the mod’s main character, General Ward.

Adapting and expanding the narrative was far from the only huge challenge Otellino had to overcome in order to bring his vision for the mod to fruition. “There [are] a lot of systems [that are] running in the background [and] managing various aspects of the Enclave in America Rising 2,” the modder reveals, “Two I’m particularly proud of are what I call the Oil Rig Control System and Equipment Control System.”

The first of these allows the Atlantic Oil Rig, which serves as the faction’s base, to dynamically evolve from a visual perspective as the mod’s narrative progresses, mirroring the idea that the Enclave is gradually being brought back to life as a force in The Commonwealth.

“For the Oil Rig, this meant every individual room [had to have three] different states; wrecked [with]no power, wrecked [with] power, [and] repaired,” Mitchell explains. “Setting that up involved [three] clutter passes on each room – of which there are multiple across [five] different interiors – [then] writing a system that registers each room with each stage of clutter, and flicks them between the three states as the player progresses along the questline, as well as [gradually enabling] more and more personnel [to spawn].

“If anyone opens up the Oil Rig in the Creation Kit they’ll see thousands of markers and triggers that all drive this system – it was cumbersome to set up, but I think the end result was really worth it.”

Some vertibirds flying in Fallout 4.

Ride of the Valkyries. | Image credit: VG247/Bethesda/Herr_derpstein

The mod’s Equipment Control System does something very similar for its Enclave NPCs, switching their gear out for a more advanced ensemble once the Oil Rig reaches a certain point in its restoration. “I’m really proud of this one, but it took months of work and testing to make sure it upgraded every soldier reliably and when appropriate,” Otellino reveals. “The testers kept running into edgecases where some troops would never upgrade their armour and would remain in rusty armour all the way through, which was a little immersion breaking. We got there in the end, though.”

It’s a good job that those working on America Rising 2 did get there in the end too – after all, who’d want to miss out on the opportunity to ride into a firefight with the wasteland’s coolest-looking baddies?

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