Perfect Start Syndrome: Or, Why I Haven’t Gotten Very Far in Fallout 3

Bethesda Softworks released Fallout 3 about two weeks ago, and I really haven’t gotten very far at all in this post-apocalyptic role playing game.

The view, not new, from the Vault

It’s not that the game is difficult or perplexing, especially for a grizzled Wastelander like myself—I cut my teeth on Fallout’s spiritual progenitor, Wasteland, on my trusty Commodore 128. (Never could save that darn dog in the well, but I did clear out Base Cochise.) And the game runs quite well on my Mac Pro booted into XP, so it’s not any technical issue that has hindered my progress.

No, I haven’t gotten very far at all because I keep starting over. And I doubt that I’m the only one afflicted by this malady of free-form gaming: Perfect Start Syndrome.

(Only the most minor of Fallout 3 spoilers follow.)

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With a Story and a Side Arm: Bungie’s Marathon

Every few years, I reacquaint myself with an old friend, one I’ve known since 1994. It originally came on four 3.5″ floppies in a triangular box, produced by a Mac-only software shop with a funny name: Bungie. They had previously released Pathways into Darkness, an adventure shooter centering on an alien god awakening in a jungle pyramid. Their new Mac-only game? Marathon.


The Marathon demo came out in late November, 1994, changing Mac gaming—and arguably computer gaming as well. It certainly wasn’t the first first person shooter; it wasn’t the first shooter to feature a detailed story told through interaction with in-game objects; it wasn’t the first shooter to use the mouse to change the player’s viewpoint independent of movement direction (mouse look); and it wasn’t the first shooter to attract an active modding community. But it did it all so very well, and on a platform not renowned for gaming to boot.

I upgraded my trusty Mac LC III to a whopping 8 MB of RAM (at no mean cost, either) in preparation for the full game after playing the demo, which I downloaded slowly on a 28.8k modem. USENET group lit up with conversations about the demo. Indeed, the volume of Marathon-related posts was so high that it spurred the split of c.s.m.g into various sub-groups, like .action and .flight-sim. I still have a record of a post I made to c.s.m.g that apologizes for posting about Marathon there:

From: (chbaer)
Subject: Marathon and Micronauts?
Date: 15 Dec 1994 08:00:55 -0500
Message-ID: <3cpem7$>
X-Newsreader: TIN [version 1.2 PL0]

(Sorry, my server doesn’t carry or

Has anyone noticed the similarity between the soldiers and Bug from the
late-70’s/early-80’s comic book and action figure series Micronauts?
Bug, too, carries a fighting stick with a spade-like top. Hmm…
perhaps a plot connection (or at least something to think about until
Marathon ships).

Why the rabid fan base? Setting aside the fact that this amazing game was Mac-only, fostering quite proprietary feelings in the breasts of many Mac gamers, the game’s immersive story kept people coming back for more even after the last level.

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