Fallout's Vault Boy, the mascot for the game series.
I'm a big fan of the Fallout 3 video game. It is a post-apocalyptic alternate future in which the United States broke from reality around the era of World War II. From there, the US endures an extended Cold War, tinged with McCarthy-era Communist fears, not against the USSR, but China, which replaced the USSR from our timeline as the great Communist threat. In the fall of 2077, after many years of Cold War, a resource war culminated in the destruction of the world from a cataclysmic blanketing of nuclear bombs.
Fallout 3 takes place approximately 200 years after the bombs dropped, in the District of Columbia, the US Capital. The main character, one you can customize with name, gender, and facial features, is a child that was born in the Wasteland. His father, James (voiced by Liam Neeson), brought the infant PC into one of the many survival shelters called 'vaults.'
From there, time fast-forwards to the main character's adulthood. The game puts you on a quest to find the PC's father, who escaped Vault 101 during a period of turmoil within the vault society. You slowly discover that your character's father was working on a grand project called Project Purity, a scientific endeavor set up inside the ruins of the Jefferson Memorial. Purity was to be a water treatment plant, for the world's water remains heavily irradiated.
Fallout 3 is equal parts science fiction and survival. And it a paints a striking picture of a universe that details just how horrifying the effects of fascism upon a society can be. Even 200 years after the world ended, you feel the pain of the past, mixed with the ugly new terrors that wait for you in the "Capital Wasteland."
One of Fallout 3's most endearing traits is its exploration. The map of the Capital Wasteland is filled with things to do and see, and many of them are drawn from real-life counterparts. There are many fun side missions as well, one of which involves a fight between slavers and freed slaves at the ruins of the Lincoln Memorial. DC's Metro system also makes an appearance, and it is a fun labyrinth to explore. The Metro ruins are expansive, like a whole second map. And the add-on content delivers 3 additional short stories in different locales, as well as an addition to the main story.
When Fallout New Vegas hit the shelves, I was thrilled at first to have a sequel for the game series, but I soon became dismayed at the number of failings and glitches that basically ruined what could have been a much more fun game. New Vegas changed the location to the Vegas ruins, and it packed in more overall story, but it ultimately failed to capture my imagination like Fallout 3 had. In some ways the game's dynamics had improved, but it just wasn't the hit that Fallout 3 was. Arguably, the add-on content for Vegas is better than the main game.
The following is a list, in no particular order, of things that I would like (and not like) to see in an upcoming Fallout universe installment.
Note: The following points contain possible spoilers. However, if you're really interested in a multi-page wish list and commentary upon the series, then chances are great that you've already played these games and know everything that I mention. For the rest, as long as you don't mind spoilers, I've tried to make this post as friendly to the uninitiated as possible.
A bed in Tenpenny Tower, from Fallout 3.
Fallout 3 became noted for the ability of the user to set up housing in a number of alternate static environments. Fallout New Vegas expanded this feature by guiding the user to operate out of a number of different intended home locales. Both Fallout games differ from many other games because in the other games, you can't just set up shop literally anywhere.
Fallout should expand on this dynamic, making the physical universe even more static than it already is. Want to set up home in a service shed, underneath a bridge? How about at the top of a ruined building? No problem. It should be limited only by your desire.
In Fallout 3, a problem with some alternate housing choices would be the dynamic reset of the location after a few in-game hours. Not only would baddies re-spawn, but the default exterior or interior would also revert, thus losing all your personal touches (and possessions).
Re-spawning baddies is fine, in fact, it's a good idea, considering that after a while, one would simply kill everything that had ever lived in the area, and the map would become too desolate and depopulated. However, make most containers lockable (and thus ownable), which would solve the problem of total environment re-spawns. Want to own a storage locker in a subway system? Put a lock on it. How about an antique luggage trunk in a train yard? Lock it. Want a room in a bombed out hotel? Lock the door.
As for item display resets, they should happen far less, or not at all. If you drop a piece of garbage on the ground in real life, unless someone comes along and puts the garbage in the trash, it will stay there, being jostled only by the wind and elements. That's how it should be, in-game. Want to build a fortress out of old couch cushions and shopping carts? 8 in-game years later, if no one has had a battle in the area, then the junk fortress should still be there, down to the last cart and cushion. Decide to spray paint a smiley face on a wall? That same crude smiley should greet you on your next return, however later that may be. The possibilities are endless, and ability to maintain one's personal touches would definitely keep me coming back for more.
Fallout New Vegas's Anti-Materiel Rifle.
Weapon enhancements were a welcome addition to Fallout New Vegas. It makes sense to allow for customization of weapons in a game that largely involves itself with weapons and shooting things. And in real-life, many weapons come with choices of things like suppressors/silencers, extended magazines, even variants of the same caliber projectiles. Don't lose that feature in the next Fallout.
One of the interesting features in the universe is the degradation of weapons, over time. If you pick up a weapon anywhere in the game, it can be in various levels of disrepair, and by using it frequently, the weapon can degrade into an unusable state. My critique involves one of a more realistic nature to the state of repairs and ability to repair.
200-year-old automatic rifles should, in essence, be scarce, outside of untouched armories, and on the persons of vanquished enemies. However, 200-year-old weapons, in general, should not be common at all. In fact, after 200 years, most multiple-piece ballistic weapons should be unusable. Metal corrodes, wood stocks deteriorate, and after a nuclear war, any weapon that wasn't vaporized should be almost completely unsuitable for use beyond bludgeoning someone with it.
This is a quick aside, now that I think of it. I would love it if the user could toggle between firing a weapon and using it as a melee device. In other games, you can pistol whip people, and this game should also feature that ability.
Perhaps it would be too complex to include variable component qualities in the dynamics of the game's weapon degradation, but it's also a thought to be explored.
Maybe some weapons, like the science-fiction-derived plasma and laser weapons, could have a longer (hundreds of years) shelf life. Plastics would have a much longer life, but the Fallout universe diverged from our universe, choosing instead to invest research into fission energy, rather than plastics and silicon. Most of the clutter in the Fallout universe is a plastic-less existence. The bottles and cups are glass or porcelain, and most of the cutlery is metal. If plastics and silicon were a much more major reality, then it might break the continuity of the Fallout universe, however. An example of the lack of plastics revolves around Fallout computers. They are the early 1980s-era one-piece terminals, with bubble screens of monochrome black with green text. Computer servers/towers often take up entire rooms. So maybe introducing plastics isn't the way to go, but maybe in 200 years, someone has begun to introduce such tech into everyday life.
In New Vegas, the group called Gun Runners has begun producing new issues of various ballistic weapons, so they got around the idea of having 200-year-old guns by suggesting that someone is actively replenishing the arsenals of citizens in the Wastes. That was a good idea, and if that's the way the Fallout universe chooses to go, then more power to them.
In both recent Fallout games, you could repair an existing weapon with an identical copy of that weapon, and that is just fine. In New Vegas, they touched on an idea evolved from Fallout 3, in the sense that you could repair a weapon with what is called a "Weapon Repair Kit." Such kits were even possible to craft, based on combining in-game junk elements at a construction station. That was a welcome addition to the options involving weapons and weapon repair.
Another critique I had involved the rate of degradation of some of the weapons, and the effects of such degradation.
In Fallout 3, one of my most favorite weapons to wield was the Chinese Assault Rifle. I am no expert on guns, but it seemed rather limited in its life of use, even from full condition. You could fire a total of 1,212 rounds from a fully-repaired copy of the weapon, before it would completely break. Also, weapons tended to deal damage proportionate to the level of a weapon's degradation. Again, I am no weapon aficionado, but it doesn't seem feasible that a bullet fired from a weapon in disrepair would do any less damage than one fired from a weapon in perfect condition. Unless the barrel was cruddied, or the velocity of the projectile decreases as a gun is used, that same bullet should be traveling at the same feet-per-second as it does from its very first firing. Since bullets in the game do not degrade, there should be no reason for a bullet reaching its target to do proportionately less damage based on the state of one's weapon. It is more believable to me to have issues come up with a weapon in terms of spread of fire.
Maybe a sniper rifle in extreme disrepair, for example, would not have its sights properly calibrated, and the placement of such shots would spread along a higher percentage variable. But otherwise, a non-precision weapon like an assault rifle shouldn't demonstrate much of a difference in spread, for comparison. Ultimately, the first shot of any weapon should be the most accurate, and that is successfully implemented already in Fallout New Vegas. In Fallout 3, your first shot could glance far from your intended aim, and they've already corrected that variable spread problem, so there's definitely no need to revert back from that particular upgrade.
Another damage-dealt critique, with regards to levels of disrepair, involves crude melee weapons. This is a poor choice for example, but the baseball bat is a common weapon in Fallout 3, and it seems a bit off the mark to limit a bat to 889 swings before it breaks. Also unrealistic is one's ability to repair such a weapon. Short of using glue to shore up major cracks in the bat's wood, once a bat breaks, that's generally the end of its usefulness. I find it a bit unrealistic to be able to repair a wooden baseball bat with another copy, to full condition. Such one-piece instruments really should be as-is, and they should also, like with projectile weapons, not base the damage dealt upon the state of disrepair. A bat that is used for the 701st time on an enemy's skull should have no less chance of smashing the combatant's skull as it had when you had swung it the 1st time. Perhaps Fallout can introduce aluminum bats? Those things should have an almost limitless shelf life, compared to their 200 year old wooden counterparts (which, if we are getting into realism, a 200 year old wooden weapon would be far more brittle than the ones in Fallout are).
Once more, I'm not a guns expert, and I do realize that if you use a gun often in terms of expending multiple magazines in a short time, it can jam and overheat and do other sorts of nasty things (like cause an explosion in one's hand). I don't know how you'd incorporate such realism into a game, but as long as you had some sort of suspended disbelief (and this game has a bit of that), I'm fine without the more nasty realizations of a poorly-crafted Saturday Night Special becoming a hand-shredder.
One of the more confusing realities in the Fallout universe is the general inconsistency of degradation of life-forms and consumables. I'm not exactly sure what the rules are, in this universe. You can find skeletons of humans in many parts of the Wastelands, and I assume that such people are either the 200-year-old remains of people from before 2077's Great War, or they're people who were more recently burned to a cinder from some kind of fire-based attack. One thing that is particularly odd is finding non-degraded remains of baddies you expended in interior environments, sometimes months or even years after you killed them.
It would seem, from experience, that bacteria and viruses are generally eradicated in the Fallout universe. Aside from the mutation-generating F.E.V. virus (Forced Evolutionary Virus), things like the common cold, or mold (exception being Fallout 3's Cave Fungus), or general bacterial corruption of things simply does not exist. Perhaps the strong levels of radiation act as an eradicating and preserving element? I've never seen any corpse corrode into skeletal remains, nor have I witnessed any form of maggot or larvae infestation in any remains.
Also, my player-character can literally eat 200-year-old Salisbury Steak, or Cram. Perhaps pasteurization methods in the Fallout universe allow for indefinite preservation of consumables? The maximum shelf life of a can of goods in our reality is little more than 5 years from initial canning, according to StillTasty.com. Such a real-world reality, applied to the Fallout universe, would require fresh produce to be generated for continued survival.
The other problem regarding believability is that such factories that produced these goods would have been shut down or destroyed not long after the nuclear event. That would suggest, as was touched on by the excellent dark comedy Zombieland, that there would be a finite number of packaged goods in the universe, going forward. Since nobody is crafting new Salisbury Steaks or Crams, after an indefinite amount of time, such products would become scarce, until the point that no copies of the food would persist. Perhaps Fallout creators could introduce a reality in which someone is actually processing new packaged consumables, similar to what they did when they introduced the Gun Runners company for weapons.
There is one source of fresh food found prevalent in an add-on in Fallout 3. Punga fruit is found throughout the add-on Point Lookout, in almost every patch of explorable land. It is a mutated edible fruit, evolved seemingly from citrus and nightshade counterparts. The punga fruit restores health and scrubs radiation from one's body. Such fruits would be a welcome addition to future Fallout installments, as it would add to the believability of one's ability to exist in a post-apocalyptic universe.
Fallout 3's Agatha.
Music can have a profound effect upon a gaming experience, much like it does when it accompanies a scene in a film. Fallout needs more of this, either through increased radio station capability, or through one's own personal customization.
One of the best features in other open-world games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series, is the accompaniment of music in the game world. Various radio stations in that series have provided us with a memorable and varied archive of the era's big musical hits. In the Fallout universe, particularly 3 and Vegas, stations do exist, but their offerings are far more limited. It seems, from my own investigation, that the music function in the Fallout 3/Vegas engine is particularly buggy and limited, in terms of size and type of files it can play. Perhaps with better coding, we can see far more variety in the radio stations in the Wasteland.
There were some high points in the musical offerings in the Fallout world. From my experience, I enjoyed Dean Martin's "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," from New Vegas. I also dug the Kay Keyser Orchestra's "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle." In Fallout 3, one of the more memorable songs for me was the bizarre "Butcher Pete (Part 1)," performed by Roy Brown. Another top choice from Fallout 3 was "Civilization" by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters.
Some people did not like Agatha, but I did. If you completed her side quest, she broadcasted an alternate radio station filled with a small array of violin pieces. I felt Agatha's violin to be a great accompaniment to the solemn nature of the Capital Wasteland.
In fact, more classical arrangements would be appreciated. You can hear a special broadcast of "Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner during a particular side quest in Fallout New Vegas. Orchestras, I feel, provide some of the most powerful moments in music. Take the main title theme from Fallout 3, for example. Isn't that a powerful intro to the game? For examples in other work, one of my most memorable experiences with orchestral arrangements in film was during the climax of the original Star Wars film. "The Battle of Yavin" is the orchestral piece that accompanies the beginning and end of that fantastical space battle, and here is a fan edit of those scenes. Note how the orchestra heightens the experience of this winner-take-all conflict. For further reference, note how other famous films like Steven Spielberg's Jaws or Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho used striking music to enhance the viewer's experience. And if you're familiar with Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, you'll know it to be an amazing horror and suspense film. Now, watch this legendary trailer re-cut to a romantic comedy vibe, complete with the oft-used Peter Gabriel song "Solsbury Hill." Notice the effect that the music gives to the re-edited trailer, in terms of helping to mislead the viewer? I certainly do.
I feel the Fallout universe's chief failing moment with music was during the New Vegas series. The game's creators went through quite a bit of trouble to include side quests involving Elvis Presley impersonators, but they failed to include any music from The King. What an oversight that was. Even if the licensing was costly, it should have had at least one Elvis song on the radio stations. They got rights to Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, for comparison. Spend the extra dollars next time, and get the best accompaniment for your tales.
A feature sorely needed by Fallout would be radio customization. A great example of such programming was the Independence FM station on the PC version of Grand Theft Auto IV. It had a DJ named Gary Sheen, and the station would sprinkle the DJ's canned general introductions to songs of your choosing, along with intervals of in-game radio commercials. This FM radio station was only limited by the amount of song files one possessed. Setting it up was very simple on a PC, as it had a designated folder where you could drop your song files into it, to which the game would recognize and incorporate those files to be played on that particular radio station.
It wouldn't hurt to imagine that the Pip-Boy (the player character's trusty wrist-bound computer device) could function as a personal music player as well as a device that captures radio frequencies. The Fallout universe didn't seem to be more sophisticated than magnetic audio tape, but you did deal in computer files that were occasionally downloaded to your Pip-Boy, so it's feasible to think that your character could keep an array of sound files in digital format for repeated playback. After all, you can play recorded transmissions from found holotapes (audio tapes) indefinitely on your Pip-Boy, even months after you completed the mission related to whatever audio transmission you found. It's not much of a stretch to turn a Pip-Boy into an iBoy.
And if licensing is too costly, there's plenty of public domain music that can be used. I've found plenty of old-time music on Archive.org that would fit right in with the nostalgic early 20th Century fare that plays on the game's radio stations.
On consoles, specifically the Xbox 360, it's possible to pipe music into your game via the Xbox Dashboard, so customization isn't nearly as limited as it is on PC, oddly enough (usually PC versions of games are more adaptable). And from memory, I've had fun using certain non-Fallout-y musical pieces to accompany my gaming.
Sometimes, I decide to forcibly evict all the residents of Tenpenny Tower, from the Fallout 3 installment. As I go sneaking around, I tend to put Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" on repeat. Another memorable personal accompaniment is during the assault on Calvert's secret base beneath the Point Lookout Lighthouse. For that, I recently used the Stooges "Search and Destroy."
One might argue that the inclusion of the last two songs I mentioned would ruin or interrupt the general theme of the Fallout games, but to each his own, I say. Not that I particularly like this band, but if you wanted to play Fallout while listening to Fall Out Boy, then you should be able to get on your personal Xzibit and pimp your musical ride.
Fallout New Vegas's Securitrons.
Possibly the best battle among the many in Fallout 3/Vegas is the 2nd Battle of Hoover Dam. In it, you lead an assault of your choosing (based on the the choices you made in the game along the way) on the top and the inner-workings of the Dam, to conclude the game's story. In it, you face wave after wave of baddies on your way to solving the conflict once and for all.
The problem I have with battles in the Fallout universe (another limitation of the game's engine) is that whenever you fight the enemy, they rarely ever come at you in packs stronger than 4-5. Most of the time, you're facing small clusters of enemies, along the way to your objective. Never in the Fallout universe do you rush into a battle with dozens of allies, only to encounter hundreds of enemies lying in wait.
It's particularly frustrating to experience games such as Fallout 3/Vegas with such limitations, and I feel like a large-scale battle would be doable in the upcoming game engines. Imagine recreating a battle like the storming of Normandy during World War 2, or the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Maybe we could see a rendition of Hannibal's famous battle at Cannae, or Napoleon's Waterloo, or the battle of the Alamo? Such large-scale combats would be thrilling to handle in open-world games such as Fallout.
Of course, we may not yet be at a point in gaming and artificial intelligence where thousands of individual combatants can be easily scripted to converge upon each other and behave logically. However, I do feel that it's the right time to introduce combat situations with individual AI totaling the hundreds.
As for realism, I am aware that Call of Duty exists, but that is a game that primarily focuses on military battle, and Fallout is not such a genre, nor should it be. Yet, Fallout does feature climactic battles, and those battles I feel would be much more epic with larger numbers of combatants.
Here is a mock-up custom fight between 30 NCR troopers and 30 Caesar's Legionaries. I thought this was pretty cool, even in such limited numbers. Can you imagine hundreds of these troops in action? What about thousands? I sure hope that's a reality, sooner rather than later.
Even the types of battles could be expanded upon. Throughout both games, you primarily undertake ground-based battles. Except for brief cut-scenes, there's never really any naval action to speak of in Fallout 3/Vegas. Yes, you do use the Duchess Gambit to travel to Point Lookout, and yes, you do take a ferry to cross over to Caesar's Legion camp, but you never do battle on the seas. Imagine how boss it would be to command a sailing vessel in the Fallout universe, only to have an intercept from a rival ship. Imagine the swashbuckling that would occur when the invaders try to board. It would be a treat to have a pirate battle on the high seas of Fallout's realm.
Another fine feature of that 2nd Battle of Hoover Dam was the assistance of the Boomers. If you helped them out during the New Vegas storyline, you could recruit them to provide air support for your siege. Watching the Boomer B-29 drop bombs on the enemy was one of the best moments in the battle. Forgive me (that's not me narrating the video, nor is it a video capture of mine), but I swear I've watched that bomber annihilating live enemies on the Dam's surface. At this time, I can't find a particularly good video demonstration of such enemies getting wasted by the B-29. Even if you've eliminated every enemy prior to the bombing, however, the bomber, per the link, still creates an impressive visual.
Speaking of impressive visuals, two of the best in the series remain resident in my memory. This isn't particularly a battle scenario, but in Fallout 3, you can trigger an undetonated atom bomb in the center of the town called Megaton. Here is a demonstration of that detonation. The other impressive scene was during the assault at Adams Air Force Base, in the Fallout 3 add-on Broken Steel. Here is a demonstration of one of the endings you can choose in the quest "Who Dares Wins." In it, the character watches the destruction of the Enclave's Mobile Base.
Other memorable battles were the simulation battle in the Fallout 3 add-on, Operation Anchorage. Another battle of note involves your assault on the command center of the alien spaceship in the Fallout 3 add-on, Mothership Zeta. Yet another memorable battle was the assault on Nelson during the quest "Restoring Hope," in Fallout New Vegas. Also in New Vegas, one can stage a thrilling attack on Caesar's Fortification Hill, either by yourself, or with the help of your companions.
In sum, the potential for better battles tantalizes us, and I expect much better fights in Fallout's future.
Vault Boy, dressed as the Mysterious Stranger.
Some of the best non-combat moments in the Fallout universe are ones that involve quests filled with espionage. Memorable quests of note include the quest "I Put a Spell on You," from Fallout New Vegas. In it, based on your choices, you can either foil or assist a sabotage of a monorail connection from Camp McCarran to the Vegas Strip. Another fun spy quest is a side quest in the add-on Point Lookout, from Fallout 3, called "The Velvet Curtain." In it, you can follow the steps of a long-dead Chinese agent, who was tasked with the destruction of a stranded Chinese submarine, just off the coast of Point Lookout. Yet another great espionage moment in New Vegas happens during the speech of President Kimball at Hoover Dam. Depending on your choices, you either aid Kimball's security in the quest "You'll Know It When It Happens," or you work to assassinate Kimball in the quest "Arizona Killer."
New Vegas in particular is filled with similar moments of espionage and potentials for double-crossing. Such moments are strong points of the game, and I feel that with increased use of factions within the Fallout universe, the player's character is in a prime position to become a spy, a double-agent, or even a rogue, playing multiple sides upon each other.
I gained quite an appreciation for intelligence work when I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. It is a privately-owned museum that details espionage history, and it also includes light spy activities that one can participate in while perusing the museum. While studying the exhibits, I learned about such espionage techniques such as dead drops and the Navajo code talkers.
Spy work can easily be expanded upon in future Fallout games, and the thrill of completing such missions is as exciting as the fiercest ground battles. One feature that was pretty entertaining during the New Vegas campaign was the management of faction gear.
In New Vegas, if you were wearing a faction's particular gear, you could fool the faction into thinking you were a part of it, for a little while. Consequently, wearing enemy faction gear around opposing faction members was a quick way to turn a whole base against you. The effects of wearing faction gear applied whether you were in a faction base or roaming out in the Wasteland. Expansion upon this feature would be a great idea.
Particular sources of fiction that would be helpful to channel tone and surprise, off the top of my head, would be the TV show "X-Files," or the spy films Marathon Man, The Day of the Jackal, The Manchurian Candidate, North by Northwest, and Three Days of the Condor.
The infinity symbol.
One of the problems with open-world sandbox games is when you are finished with every last quest in the game, aside from an occasional once-around the map, the game quickly becomes boring.
As games become larger in file size (we're currently in the gigs in terms of total size of an average game), programmers should try to give extra life to the single-player modes by allowing an indefinite and repeatable set of quests.
To be more specific, I have thought of several repeatable quests that the next Fallout installment could offer, based on experiences from the previous two games.
a) Escort missions. In Fallout 3, they had a trader caravan network that would complete a circle around the map, stopping at various points for a couple hours, among multiple points on the map. The traders were escorted by mercenaries, who would protect the trader and his brahmin (the pack mule) from random attacks. I propose a side quest where the player character could escort such traveling merchants on their stops throughout the Wastes. As you progress in real-time, randomized attacks could occur, every few minutes or so. Making a complete trip around the map with your merchant intact would get your character a renewable source of income.
b) Bounty hunting. I've seen a few Fallout mods where the modder included a side quest that consisted of eliminating special enemies for a caps reward from a paymaster. Also, in Fallout 3, one could collect fingers (from enemies marked as evil) and ears (from enemies marked as good), and the PC could turn those in for a caps and karma reward. I propose that the next Fallout should have plenty of this, since it generates desire to roam the Wasteland more than one would normally explore. Spawning the bounties in areas that you may not have explored (in particular, areas which aren't essential to the story line) would add value and incentive to fully explore the map.
c) Sales/distribution quests. In GTA games, there have been properties one could acquire, which would generate money for the PC over certain periods of time. Such properties made it desirable to return to an area one had already finished, if only to make an easy cash collection.
There was one game which I loved, Scarface: The World Is Yours, in which one could conduct an elaborate multi-step drug trafficking quest, which was repeatable. It involved traveling to an offshore island to purchase a large quantity of drugs, followed by transport of the drugs by boat back into the mainland, then a run from property to property, delivering the drugs, followed by the final step of laundering the money collected at the bank. Each step involved a mini-game, as well. For buying the drugs off-shore, there was a negotiation screen in which one had to stop the negotiation in a 'sweet spot' in order to complete the transaction. Being off the mark would either cause the shipment to be more costly, or turn the sellers hostile, depending on how inaccurate one was at stopping the negotiation from that sweet spot. The ferrying of the drugs back to the mainland took place in a fast-boat, and one had to dodge the surveillance of police patrols on the water. The delivery of the drugs to one's properties consisted of heat from rival gangs, who went after you and your properties along the way. The final mini-game was another negotiation mini-game similar to the initial drug purchase, where the sweet spot would negotiate you a better laundering rate if you accurately hit your sweet spot.
Maybe drug running is a bit too controversial for some games, but a game like Fallout might allow for such a repeatable quest. After all, when you combat someone in the Fallout games via the V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), if you're successful in hitting the enemy, you're treated to a cinematic of blood spews and appendage obliteration, upon the enemy's death. It's not a stretch to make it a more adult-level game, with regards to something like drug running.
If that's too risque, then maybe the Fallout creators could set up something like a factory for the player to operate and distribute merchandise, which could possibly tie-in with the aforementioned escort quests. Running guns, cans of meat, soft drinks, and junk would definitely add to the continued playability of the game.
d) Raid/Defense quests. In GTA IV's add-on, The Ballad of Gay Tony, the main character could participate in a series of drug-related raids on rival dealers. Such quests would randomly spawn in different areas of the map, and the PC would pick up his partners for the raid, then travel to the location of the drugs, assault the rivals, take their stash, and deliver it to a different location for a profit. You could repeat this quest indefinitely.
In the Fallout universe, it would be fun to have something similar. Maybe, for example, raiders are sitting on a stash of valuable food, or some other goods. Take your companions to the location of raiders, overpower them, take their stuff, then haul it somewhere else for a cut of the loot.
Conversely, and this is somewhat related to the escort quest, one could travel to a location to defend against a merchant under siege by raiders. Successful repel of the trapped individual would net a reward.
e) Faction-related repeatable quests. If the PC ends up allied with a particular faction, a series of repeatable faction-related quests would add to the playability.
For example, from New Vegas, if you sided with the NCR, then there should be quests specific to aiding the NCR after the main story is finished. This is also somewhat related to the previous repeatable quests, if one is to, say, bring in an NCR-desired bounty. Or perhaps the PC could aid an NCR patrol in a reconnaissance mission, culminating in a defense of the patrol from a surprise attack from an enemy. Just because the NCR successfully secured the Dam once and for all, doesn't necessarily mean that the NCR's enemy, Caesar's Legion, is finished. After all, the Legion controls Arizona, and it's feasible to suppose that the Legion could still send new patrols into the Vegas Wasteland.
I understand that there are types of repeatable quests already in the series, such as the ears/fingers bounty reward quest from Fallout 3, or the delivery of technology to a Brotherhood of Steel Outcast from that game. However, there is no ongoing narrative to go along with such quests. I suggest, in general, that each type of repeatable quest, as mentioned, have an introduction to go along with accepting it. As long as the narratives are varied enough, then it won't feel like a repetitive mess. Plus, you can skip through a lot of narratives from characters by pressing a button, so if you've heard it all before, then Fallout allows the user to get past talky points rather quickly.
All of these types of quests, provided there was enough programming to randomize locations and types of encounters, could add hours to a game that has been fully explored and completed.
This brings me to my final suggestion.
Break the chains!
I cannot stress how disappointed I was with Fallout New Vegas when I realized that the game would actually end with the final battle at Hoover Dam. The game's designers argued that the story was too complex with regard to one's choices to feasibly allow further open world exploration after the climax, but I disagree emphatically. There have been plenty of games with choices that affect the outcome of a game. It may not be simple to program several end static scenarios, but do it, dammit.
For example, in New Vegas, should you side with Casear's Legion, then following the battle at the Dam, the Legion should spread themselves everywhere in the Vegas Wasteland. Instead of running into NCR troops at the various forts, you would now run into Legion. It's fairly simple to program several of these static end scenarios, and I suspect that Obsidian ran out of time, biting off more than they could chew.
I loved the fact that in Fallout 3, you could roam the Capital Wasteland after everything was done. In fact, I believe Bethesda released the add-on Broken Steel because people disliked the original ending of that game. Without Steel, the game ends at the Jefferson Memorial, and your PC essentially dies there.
I don't always have a problem with final endings in games, but when you've spent hours collecting various weapons and trophies, it doesn't make sense to end a game and remove the ability to mess with your loot after everything's finished. Plus, it's lame to have to load a save file right before the climax, just so you can fool around on the map. Loading that save file makes me feel like I'm holding up progress, even though I've already beaten the game, and in New Vegas's case, if you ran into some particular characters, those characters will repeatedly remind you that you've got something important to do. I don't like that at all.
Please, Bethesda, when the game ends, don't really make it end. Leave it open-ended.
I really hope that the game's universe evolves well with the upcoming engines and boosts to hardware and software. Of all the gaming universes, this is one of the few I really enjoy running around in, while the story is taking place. I think I've spent more time poking around on Fallout maps than I have from the collective time spent on several other sandbox franchises. GTA is the only rival to Fallout, in terms of total time spent exploring.
Nobody does post-apocalyptic role playing quite as well as Fallout. Keep the good games coming.