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28 March 2011

The ones that got away

Just before I leave for the trip, it's worth a word about the locations I couldn't match to anything in the real world.

For starters, the Gun Runners building looks like a lot of other buildings near the Strip. The business is probably based on American Shooters (or possibly The Gun Store) but both real-world stores are some distance away in real life.

Secondly, most of the businesses - the Aero-Tech offices, the H&H Tool Factory -  probably look like a thousand other buildings away from the Strip; a case of not seeing the wood for the (doubtless irradiated) trees. Without an actual map marker on my Pip-Boy I'm giving up on them, fun as it'd be to march up to the reception desk and ask if I could hack a terminal or two.

Third to fall are most of the NCR camps. Camp Golf is obvious enough, but I've no idea if the Mojave Outpost is a real clump of buildings, and Alpha through Foxtrot are waaaaay off the beaten track - no chance of getting there without a GPS reference or two.

Fourth, the bunkers and caves. It's possible the locations are real - most sit in the shadow of recognisable mountains and other geographical features - but obviously there's no actual hatches there to climb down, and I don't have time to go walkabout.

Finally, most of the "official" buildings I won't be able to get close to. I'm hoping to see Nellis AFB from the road, but places like Helios ONE and the Southern Nevada Wind Farm are working businesses in real life (if I've got my equivalents correct), not the sort of places you can go snooping around. I live in hope.

But that leaves 40 locations on my itinerary that seem doable in the few days I have. So - enough Dialogue Options; it's time to Fast Travel to the Mojave Wasteland!

25 March 2011

Pip-Boy and Power Fist

Just in case this blog wasn't silly enough already, I thought I'd make my own Pip-Boy for the trip.

 - Scrap electronics (1/0)
- Sensor module (1/0)
- Elbow brace (1/2)
- Velcro patch (1/16)

Hmmm. Wait a moment... I'm sure my trusty Garmin counts as electronics and a sensor module. To the Workbench! (And yes, of course the map was 'shopped)

On the other paw I've mocked up my favourite unarmed combat weapon, a Power Fist. OK, there's nothing powered about it, but at least I'm reasonably qualified to wear one. (I give my heavy bag a 1000-punch workout twice a week, although my right cross is no more than a 35/100.)

Thinking about this a little more, of course it'd be easy to take the roleplaying even further. I've got a crateful of training gear (everything from mock guns to batons) in my garage, but there's no way I'm taking a mock-Glock past a Customs guy, even one made of yellow rubber. (The gun, not the Customs guy.) But there are other possibilities for stocking up my SUV next week. Snack cakes? Sugar bombs? Bubblegum? (Maybe not the dirty water, ugh.) Are we being silly yet?

In the final stages of planning

The list's now final. My itinerary now covers 40 locations on the New Vegas game map - some of which have interiors - meaning there's at least 60 pictures if I get around them all in five days (unlikely.) Oddly, since my route is a clockwise involute curving northeast from the Strip then describing a series of arcs towards the southeast, south, and west, the most difficult ones come on Day One - The Devil's Throat and Bitter Springs. Both are hundred-mile drives involving plenty of unpaved roads.

Hotels are largely booked, and are part of the tour too: I'll be staying at the Gomorrah, Silver Rush, Bison Steve's, and- if I can find it - Novac's Dino-dee-Lite Motel. The last is going to be the biggest problem.. .because Novac has no real-world double. (The town's name in the game comes from a half-working "No Vacancy" sign.) Nor is Novac's dinosaur a real clue: Dinky the T-Rex was inspired by faraway Cabazon. But I've worked out roughly where Novac is, and if there's a real motel there, I'm staying in it.

24 March 2011

Introducing my Fallout New Vegas tour!

"Fallout: New Vegas" - a role-playing videogame that uses the surreal landscape of a post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert, complete with Sin City, as its backdrop - is a stupidly wonderful game. On the basis the Yanks are forever clogging up Europe doing "Da Vinci Code" tours and the like, it's payback time ... with a Fallout tour of the real Mojave!
In a couple of days I'm setting off for Las Vegas, to find and photograph the real-world locations that inspired the ones in the game - and blog my successes and failures.

There's one rider on this tour: the Mojave Wasteland isn’t the Mojave, and New ain't Las. The game’s not set in our future, but the future as people imagined it in the 1950s – a fantastical Gernsbackian scientifiction, where the West was never quite won, a gun was your best friend, and tailfins never shrank back into the brightwork. And, er, there was a nuclear exchange around 2077. That's issue 1.

Issue 2 is that the in-game geography was designed to evoke the region, not represent it. (That's nuclear apocalypse for you.) An area spanning several States in real life had to be walkable in a day or two of in-game time; four miles of Strip can be covered in five minutes even when you're carrying 270kg. Distances have been truncated, roads are just a state of mind, and the topology's been squished and stretched to give far-off locations a visual presence on your in-game horizon. The way the game designers have done this - combined with the haunting soundtrack, solid backstory, and properly-scripted dialogue - is breathtaking.

Now here's the kicker. Since the game is ultimately the answer to a single question - if history had turned out this way, what might that look like? - many locations in the game exist in real life

So on the New Vegas Strip stands the Gomorrah Casino - clearly a reimagining of the Sahara. The Lucky 38 is probably the Stratosphere, although the geography's a bit different. The Tops may be Circus Circus (Big Top, geddit?) and I'm guessing the Ultra Luxe subs for the Mirage. Litigation may have played as big a role as imagination: one's run by gangsters, one by a dictator, and the Ultra Luxe management enjoy the most forbidden meat of all … so bear in mind I could be wrong here. About every single thing.

This blog records my trip to Vegas and the Mojave area in March and April 2011, in 34 in-game locations. Ready to start? Let's go!

Planning the trip: deciding a route

Planning my route took a whole weekend of thinking and sketching. This was one of the reasons for making the trip; I have the worst sense of direction/spatial orientation imaginable, so I'd find it really hard even without the virtual/real blurring.

Some locations are over a hundred miles apart in real life, and some - like Nipton and the Mesquite Campground - look close on the game map, but there appears to be sixty miles between them on a satellite photo. So with only five days to get it done, distance is a factor.

Added to that, I'm pretty sure (from previous experience driving in the western parts of the USA) that some of the roads to the more remote locations aren't exactly "roads" as we Europeans might understand the word. They might look driveable on the satnav screen, but I think a fair bit of my adventure's going to be off-blacktop, which is why I'm renting a 4wd with plenty of ground clearance. Finally,  I want to stay in some of the game's locations overnight - and since some of the game's thriving communities are abandoned ghost towns in real life, this presents a problem.

BUT.... after two days of sweat, I've got my route. Starting easy - walking up and down The Strip itself - on Day 1, I'll drive outatown on Day 2 towards Nellis Air Force Base. After photographing/ being arrested for trespassing/ having high-explosive ordnance dropped on my head or whatever, I'll continue northeast and hunt for Bitter Springs and the Devil's Throat, avoiding cezadors and centaurs.

Next I'll swing south towards Boulder City and Hoover Dam/ Lake Mead, before describing a lazy semicircle from the east to the south to the west: Camp Searchlight, Nipton, Primm, and hopefully a Deathclaw-free zone in Sloan. One of the last areas I visit will be Goodsprings, where the game starts.

After that, I'm not returning to Vegas: other commitments are taking me to California, so I'll take in Red Rock Canyon and say hello to the Great Khans on the way. So: five days, 30+ locations, and one GPS unit with an interesting Favourites list! Will I make it?

Planning the trip: making sense of the map

The first thing to remember is that New Vegas isn't Las Vegas; it's a reimagining. The roads and landscape are reasonably faithful to reality, though distances aren't, and many place names are plays-on-words (for example, I suspect "Freeside" is actually the Fremont St area.) But one question comes first: what's that junction of two major roads on the game map?

Fortunately, it's easy to answer. The road running from the south that flows north then northeast is America's Interstate 15, one of the USA's busiest. Near the Strip (in both New Vegas and reality) it intersects Interstate 515, which in America's interesting road-naming system is also US Routes 93 and 95 along its length; this is the road from the northwest corner of the game map that flows roughly southwest before splitting into the 93 and 95. These roads are the key to relating the game map to reality: in the game they're rubble, but they're traversable rubble.

View Larger Map

Many of the game's most important locations are along this big shaky X. If you're new to the game, I'd recommend a walk along its entire length to reveal a large number of locations. (Bring companions and decent weapons; there's any number of evil creatures along the way. No change from real life there!)

Planning the trip: choosing locations

There are over 350 locations in FNV. Some are at the core of the game, like the New Vegas Strip and Hoover Dam. Some simply add colour or contain interesting loot, like the Devil's Throat. And some are just huge, like the Vaults. So the first question was: how to choose?

Needless to say the Vaults don't exist in real life. I suspect some were based on nuclear bunkers that dot the USA's western regions, but I've no idea which or where, and although I've done a bit of urban spelunking I doubt I'd be able to gain access. So the Vaults were first to fall. For the same reason, most of the caves and topological features in the game aren't here; I expected places like Nopah Cave to be based on real locations, but at the time of writing I haven't found enough information to GPS them with any accuracy. So the "landscapes" I photograph next week will be those I can relate to a physical waypoint such as a named campground or ghost town. I expect Goodsprings, Nipton, and Primm to be the easiest, after The Strip itself. And while I've seen Hoover Dam before, it's such an integral part of the game I can't miss it on this trip; there are shots of the Visitor Centre I want to capture.

So that's the trip: about 35 locations on my list, starting at The Strip then heading northeast, swinging southeast, heading southwest across the Mojave National Preserve, and finally west before continuing to California for an entirely different adventure. Of course, as I write I'm at work in London and have no idea whether this little adventure will be a Facebooked phenomenon or an epic fail. Watch this space!