Modding Fallout 3’s Rivet City for Shipboard Navigation

Development Update, James Bohnsack, Research Update 1 Comment

James Bohnsack | August 25, 2011

As part of RETRO’s Game-Based Training research effort for the Office of Naval Research via Raytheon BBN Technologies, Fallout 3 a popular commercial off-the-shelf video game, was modified into a virtual environment used to test shipboard navigation skills. One of the in-game cities, Rivet City, is a large US Navy ship modeled in-part after a World War II aircraft carrier, the USS Oriskany. Rivet City was modified to look like an actual US Navy ship, complete with an accurate compartment labeling system. Every compartment on a ship has its own unique identifier listed on plaques (sometimes referred to as bullseyes). The numbers follow a very specific system. Training recruits to understand and use this system is difficult and attempts have been made to improve their shipboard navigation abilities using virtual environments, such as with BBN’s VESSEL Damage Control Trainer.

Initially we developed this mod as a virtual testbed and used the in-game quest editor to generate an experience that tested players’ shipboard navigation abilities. During this quest, players were tasked with seeking out various ship compartments using the bullseye plaques placed above compartment doors. The most difficult part of this effort was re-skinning the ship and placing all of the correct bullseyes over the doors. Now that this has been completed, additional quests can be generated that focus on instructional content as well. This will allow players to further explore the virtual ship environment to better understand how to use the navigation system.

Be sure to check out the video at the top of the post to see the mod!

That is the beauty of modding commercial games–once the virtual environment has been created, any number of creative quests can be created to provide instruction and practice. For example, NPCs can be used to teach players about the bullseye system, quests can be structured to take players step-by-step through the process, and the mod can even be used to test a player’s ability to apply knowledge. And this is done inexpensively, thanks in large part to Bethesda for developing and including a level and quest editor with their games. Instead of spending a monumental amount of money into developing a new game engine, we can work off of one that already exists. It is no surprise that modding has become popular in the serious games community.

The Fallout 3 mod was used in a pilot study conducted during summer 2011. The purpose of the study was to examine how well shipboard navigation skills transferred from one virtual learning environment to another. Participants first played either BBN’s VESSEL Damage Control Trainer, a first-person serious game designed to teach Navy shipboard navigation and damage control procedures, or Team Fortress 2, a first-person shooter with no shipboard navigation content. After playing either of these games for 30 minutes, players then proceeded to play the Fallout 3 mod where they were asked to complete a quest to find various ship compartments. Player times for completing each quest were recorded as well as the number of navigation errors made. Initial findings indicated that those who first played VESSEL Damage Control Trainer were able to immediately transfer their bullseye navigation knowledge to the new platform, and were also more likely to complete all the quests. However, those who played Team Fortress 2 were still able to pick up the bullseye navigation system fairly quickly. This study, in turn, helped demonstrate that commercial off-the-shelf software can be inexpensively modified and used for improving training outcomes. While some usability issues do need to be worked out (not everyone could easily master the PC-based game controls), these results are promising. Future work could use this mod to create more detailed and interesting quests, complete with multiple stages, a more engaging narrative, and NPC interactions, to teach Navy recruits skills related to shipboard navigation.

Are you interested in reading more about modding serious games? You might want to check out the following articles:

  • Fong, G. (2006). Adapting COTS games for military experimentation. Simulation & Gaming, 37(4), 452-465.
  • Robillard, G., Bouchard, S., Fournier, T., & Renaud, P. (2003). Anxiety and presence during VR immersion: A comparative study of the reactions of phobic and non-phobic participants in therapeutic virtual environments derived from computer games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 6(5), 467-476.
  • Moshirnia, A. V. (2006). The impact of procedural generation and modding on the participatory design of educational video games. Proceedings of Computers and Advanced Technology in Education.
  • Prensky, M. (2003). “Modding” – The newest authoring tool. Retrieved from here.


One Response to “Modding Fallout 3’s Rivet City for Shipboard Navigation”

  1. Route Navigation and Gaming says:

    […] In late 2010, James and I were tasked with summarizing the literature on navigation skills for an informal lab presentation. We were interested in finding a way to improve the shipboard navigation skills of Navy recruits as a part of our game-based training project with BBN for ONR. We had a several-hour discussion as to how best train navigation skills, both route-based and something a little more dynamic, like the bullseye navigation system. By the end of our discussion, we had come up with the idea for the Rivet City mod. […]

Leave a Reply


two − = 1