Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • Dead Money

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Dead Money: A grungy slide shows the Villa, shrouded in a red cloud, with the Sierra Madre Casino looming in the background.

    The term “dead money” is also used in a derogatory sense to refer to money put in the pot by players who are still legally eligible to win it, but who are unlikely to do so because they are unskilled, increasing the expected return of other players. This can also be applied to the player himself: “Let’s invite John every week; he’s dead money”. The term “dead money” also applies in tournaments, when many casual players enter events with virtually no chance of winning.


    I spent the past week playing only one game—”Dead Money,” the first DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. The premise is equal parts Ocean’s 11 and Saw: You wake up alone in a ghost town with an explosive collar around your neck. You are told by a hologram that there are 3 other people whose collars are linked to yours—if someone dies, all the collars explode. The four of you are going to break into the Sierra Madre Casino.

    That’s all I’ll say about the story, except to say that I loved it. The companions have very detailed personalities and backstories, which makes them actually interesting to talk to and get to know. The plot has a lot of layers and ties into the rest of the game. The conclusion is satisfying and lays on some heavy foreshadowing.

    The gameplay is tons of fun too. There’s emphasis on environmental hazards: a poisonous red cloud drains your health when you enter it and radios interfere with your collar, triggering their explosives after a few seconds. The cloud and radios limit where you can go and keep you on your toes; there are ways to mitigate each, but not both at once. The radios were particularly effective in making things tense. As you walk through the broken buildings, you hear white noise and garbled speech—then your collar starts beeping in warning and you run around, frantically looking for a radio to shoot before your head explodes. Quite a few times I ran into traps or enemies while looking for radios. Given that radios are a central part to the aesthetic and gameplay of the series as a whole, this twist on the radios is a highlight of “Dead Money.”

    These environmental hazards—which also include deadly and invulnerable holographic guards—are encountered one at a time earlier on as you learn how to deal with them. In the final stages they are thrown together to make some very challenging areas to navigate. In this way, the levels seem thoughtfully designed; they reminded me of Portal. The Villa is also effectively laid out, with the fountain as the central hub, always accessible from the many districts of the Villa you explore.

    Dead Money: A Ghost Trapper highlighted in VATS. It is a man with a gas mask, glowing eyes, and a bear trap clamped on his arm (to better punch you).

    Then there are the enemies, the ghosts. Very creepy. Hit hard too and are tough to kill. A few times I took a critical hit to the head and had to fight with a concussion and almost no hit points. But by taking it slowly and making sure I always got the first shot, their weakness was easily exploitable. The fact that they can return if not properly dealt with makes you more aware of how many there are and where they are, because each has to ultimately be accounted for. That and their deadliness mean it takes more thought into surviving them, compared to more common click-on-them-to-make-them-die1 baddies.

    It was fun. It was memorable. I picked up poker chips off the floor obsessively, with careless disregard for toxic clouds or headsploding radios. I got rich.

    1. My favorite description of FPSs ever: “Who doesn’t enjoy clicking on bad guys in the face to make them die?” []
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