If you've been on the Fallout 76 subreddit over the past few months, you've probably seen them. Huge, grandiose and utterly outrageous; these are player traps which seem to hoodwink dozens despite their sinister facades.
They're the work of Vault101manguy, also known as Mike: a Canadian Fallout 76 player who by day works in IT, but at night terrifies the citizens of Flatwoods. So far he's created three traps, including a murder church, player oven and his latest masterpiece: a Deathclaw maze.
The posts have gained significant traction on Reddit, even inviting comment from a Bethesda dev, and Mike has plans to make even more traps in future. I had a chat with Mike to ask him a bit about his work and the process behind constructing the devices. Oh - and how he got that Deathclaw into the maze.
So I guess I'll start off with: why? Why are you doing this?
I don't really have a philosophical reason. I guess you could say I project onto the wasteland this sort of chaotic neutral maniac, who goes around tormenting people for his own amusement. I started around the time they changed the CAMP system so you can't have your camp moved if you're logged in - I just started experimenting with different camp ideas and whatever I came up with in my mind that day.
I wanted something I thought was interesting with the camps rather than just being a static place where you had your stash and crafting. I liked having an interactive element, it was something I thought they should have more of in the game. That was part of the reason why I was always in Flatwoods - I wanted a lot of foot traffic where people could walk by and go 'hey, why is there this creepy church there'?
Were you inspired by anything in particular from pop culture? I think Wes said that surely these have been inspired by Saw...
I've seen the comments saying Saw or H.H. Holmes. Honestly no, it's never been anything like that. The oven came out of the first one I did which was called murder church - it was this dark church which had flamers in, and that inspired the next one. I thought 'I really like the fire, I wish I had a way of using that to burn somebody alive, I think that would be funny to do'. So then I built a camp around it. And then I went from that to some of the other ideas, and they weren't really based on any particular thing, I would just think of things in the game like items for camp, objects, and then ask 'how could I use that maybe as something that would be kind of funny'.
Were you surprised people would go in? Particularly as the building and your outfit looked so creepy.
I think for most people there's the limbic part of the brain which is like 'danger: this is probably not going to be a good situation'. But then there's also part of the brain that's like 'this is really interesting, you don't usually see this giant towering church in this rainy lightening foggy night', so most people are like 'I probably shouldn't go in there', but at the same time it's so tempting to know what's on the other side.
'This man is walking slowly towards me... there's an alter in there with candles... oh I wonder what the switch does?' And they just keep following as they're curious.
So when you've got an idea for a trap, how do you go about making it?
Pretty much it just starts with an idea, so the player oven I did was 'I want to take the flamers and I want to use that to kill someone'.
So I started with different designs and figuring out how much damage it does, how much budget space it takes, how hard it is to arrange. And then outside of the engineering portion is the social aspect of it, because I went through two different versions which were too suspicious - nobody would actually go inside. I would have people on the microphones being like 'nah man that's sketchy, I'm not going in'. So it has to be at least alluring enough that you either trick someone in or they're curious enough.
It was the same with the Deathclaw maze - I had the idea to use the Deathclaw months ago, before I did the player oven, but I didn't know too much about taming and I didn't really want to sit down and figure it out at the time. I wanted to do something new but I also wanted to do a maze or a labyrinth or something, and was then like 'why don't I do both?'
Like the Theseus and the Minotaur myth?
Exactly. So that's where you start building something and you start figuring stuff out. That [trap] was the most time intensive as you have to find a Deathclaw. I tested a variety of different animals, some were more aggressive. The biggest problem was I actually needed a pretty complicated maze but nothing could actually fit in it. I even had a little Yao guai which I thought was a good little maze runner, as they're a little bear-sized animal, but they wouldn't fit through the doors.
How long did it take to track down the Deathclaw and get it in the maze?
To find him I think it took two or three days of server hopping. There are specific points geographically in the world where when you approach and get a random event, and you can only tame the unique creatures that spawn from those events. So to get a Deathclaw specifically is pretty rare, I had a number of other pets like a Mirelurk Hunter and a couple of Megasloths. But an actual Deathclaw took me two or three days.
So did you use those animals to test the maze first and then bring in the Deathclaw?
Yeah just to test and see - I had heard (and this is surely a bug) that some of the tames are aggressive towards other players, even your friends, which is what I was hoping for. I had some which I sent back, I had Yao guais which were not aggressive, which was discouraging as I was afraid I would spend all this time, would finally get it, and he would just sit there.
So I found different behaviours between some of them, luckily when I did get a Deathclaw he actually was the most ill-behaved. Not only was he aggressive - so he would attack anything which was near except me - he also was the most belligerent in that he would follow things far outside the camps.
One of the ways I found that out was because I was in my maze and noticed my Deathclaw was missing. I could hear somebody screaming on the microphone: he'd chased him all the way through Flatwoods. So I ran up the road and the guy's already up to the next zone with this Deathclaw chasing him. But there's no way to stop them, so I had to log out of the game and log back in. But it was pretty funny as once they attach onto something they don't stop. That's when I was like 'this is exactly the kind of creature I want'.
When you're trying to get people into traps, what are the techniques you use to lure them in?
There's a lot to just being friendly to people. I don't ever use the microphone, I'm a terrible actor and not a very good liar, so I also feel like that takes away from the experience a bit. Just using the emotes makes it a little creepier, as you just have a man appear and he's just beckoning towards you, that's literally all I do, I just walk up to them. More often than not curiosity is enough to get them to come to see the base, and once they see it they're usually interested.
Do your victims tend to be newer players, or do you get more experienced ones too?
It depends on the trap. I'm working within the limitations of the CAMP system, so a lot of those traps actually don't do a whole lot of damage. It's pretty hard to kill someone that's level 50 or 100. The Deathclaw has a level cap of 20 - so if someone is level 20 they can probably kill it and it's not that frightening. So that's an incentive for me to try to keep them away from it.
Flatwoods ends up being a lot of lower levels because of the area it's in, but for the player oven that could be any level. That could kill anyone, it's just a matter of time.
What's the success ratio for luring people in?
It's surprisingly high - it's probably about 95 per cent.
That's remarkable, I expected closer to 50 per cent!
If I could find someone - usually I would server hop.
Another reason I was in Flatwoods - and I think they may have patched the game because of this - is there's a place behind the church which allows you to build very close to the inner side of the city, so you're within visual range of people who are either going to the store or going to do quests. So you get a lot more visibility of people going by. And there's just a lot more people in Flatwoods because it's a central area which has a vendor.
Most of the time, if you can at least get them to follow you and look, 95 per cent of the time. Whether I've actually tricked them or not I don't know.
What are people's reactions like when they're caught? In the videos you can't hear because you can't record voice chat on Xbox. So what are the things people say when they realise they're in a trap?
Most people think it's pretty funny. Even when I kill them, I make it worth their while - so in the player oven I was putting loot that they could take, like stimpacks, radaway, and cranberry relish which is pretty hard to come by. I was also crafting high condition leathers and weapons. So even if they died, they didn't lose those things - so there was legit stuff in there for them to actually have. Anybody who died I let them get their junk, but there were people who when they died didn't trust me enough to go back in.
With the Deathclaw maze, nobody actually died from that one. Some people don't realise that, but the Deathclaw operates on the same PvP mechanics, but you don't realise that when you first meet it because it's chasing you around a maze. Most of these people, after I let them run around and be scared for a while, they realise 'oh this isn't killing me as fast as I expected' and they either solve the maze or I let them go.
How many people do you think you've claimed so far with the traps, in total?
Including all the test runs - probably about 100. It's a fair number, I would say!
Has anyone ever escaped? I guess you said people could take out the Deathclaw...
Nobody has done that so far. It's funny, because a lot of the time I read the comments and people say 'you should have done this in this situation', but it's a lot different when you're in the situation. Because you weren't necessarily expecting it, and this is before seeing other videos of people doing something like that. In most of these you could fast travel away (except for the Deathclaw, you can't do that), or you could shoot your way out. But most people don't think of that at the time, the number one reaction I've noticed is they actually just panic. It's a very human response - people would literally run in a circle on the spot as they weren't entirely sure what they should be doing.
I have had a couple of people with the player oven who shot their way out. I would say the majority of people - no. Nobody has shot their way out of murder church, that was more involved so we'd end up fighting, I had a couple of people actually kill me from that.
I noticed a comment from a Bethesda dev on one of your posts, do you think the team likes your work?
I think it depends - I think it could be mixed, some do, some don't, as some of my traps have killed people. I honestly don't think the CAMP system was set up to do some of those things, so I might be pushing it a bit as to how I'm utilising it, so I don't necessarily know if they support that. I've only ever seen one comment on the death maze, and they also shared that, but they specified that nobody died from the Deathclaw maze. So that might be the kicker for them, like 'we don't like the idea of a player camp that kills people'.
So I think that maybe on a personal level some of them find it kind of amusing. I don't know if they actually do or not. I don't know if Todd Howard is sitting on a toilet somewhere laughing at player oven.
To be fair it's one of the most Fallout things I've seen in the game so far.
Definitely - having played every Fallout except for Brotherhood of Steel, I like the idea of that chaotic neutral. I was telling someone people don't like villains, but people like super villains. If you're [a villain] to an absurd level of grandiosity that there's a certain level of admiration for a villain of that stature. That's how I would do these things, these are larger than life. This trap is absurd - it's not just killing people, or torturing.
Your Reddit posts have been really popular, would you say the theatrical element is why?
I think so, yeah. A couple of weeks ago I searched YouTube to see what other people are doing. I saw what people are calling 'trap bases', and all they're doing is locking them in their house and shooting them over the mic. I was like 'man, that's not really all that fun - they're just killing them and taking all their junk'. I don't like that. You're just killing people and being kind of a dick about it, I don't find it very inventive - and it's not really that fun for both people.
But I like to think mine are ridiculous in what they're doing - you build an oven and then you cook people, and you build a church and then role-playing as a creep, with slow walking. There's an element of - like you said, theatrics that makes it different from killing people for no reason.
I guess some people might think what you're doing is kind of creepy - has anyone been really weirded out by what you've been doing, either in person or on the internet. Has anyone said 'I'm worried about this'?
[Laughs] No, I've not gotten that either online or in person. My friends think it's hilarious, especially because the Deathclaw maze is kind of a viral thing - a lot of them have seen it at work. I work in an IT company, so a lot of them have seen it somewhere else other than from me, and it's funny.
I think especially the people in real life who know me as - not eccentric, but I can be a little absurd and can prank someone, and I'll want to take it to a grandiose level. Or if people have ever played dungeons and dragons with me, I usually would dungeon master and I was well known for not wanting to do a run-of-the-mill campaign, I'd want the whole adventure to be a rollercoaster.
Another thing I noticed... I thought 'ah finally, a Fallout story that's not about bugs', but then I noticed your post saying both your characters have been locked out because of the fermenter bug. Is Bethesda looking into that?
I figured out the bug and how it happened, which incidentally is what I do for a living. I went into analyst mode and was locked out of one character and sacrificed the other so I could reproduce the issue. Of course that character is locked out now, but I submitted a support ticket to say 'this is pretty broken'. I don't know what happens on their end, but I'm not being too hard on them because they have been pretty faithful about fixing the issues, and they're taking a lot of community suggestions.
It's really popular to hate Fallout 76, but I feel they've become the Nickelback of video games. Everyone hates them to hate them, but I see how they're taking actual suggestions and they're implementing these, and I also see it's not meant to be a game that's supposed to be released as-is, and they're now going to screw these DLCs on... I've had as many bugs as anybody else - if not more - but I still feel there's a lot of potential there.
So what do you like about Fallout 76 that's kept you sticking around, is it the Fallout world or being able to do things like creating the traps?
Right now it's definitely the traps - I do a lot of other camp builds, traps are not my mainstay, but when I do that I usually go back to my regular. I like to have a nice little house, and then make it comfortable. My girlfriend says I do more home decorating in Fallout than I have in real life, which is true, because I've never put anything on my walls, but I've spent a lot of time doing all this painting. 'Does it match the colour scheme of this room, I should really get this couch, I should get an area rug or an accent wall'. After a while of doing that I think 'I'd like to make something a little more devious'.
But the CAMP system and interacting with other players probably is what keeps that going, and similarly the new content they're bringing out.
Are people starting to get wiser and more suspicious? I guess these have gotten a fair amount of circulation on social media now.
No, I don't think so. Even though it's on social media, I feel like because the camp changes and I'm probably going to be changing locations, I don't think people will always catch on. I've had maybe two people message me and say 'dude I've seen you on Reddit, I'm not going in there but that's cool'. The majority of people I don't think they pay attention to that sort of thing.
Do you know if what you've been doing has inspired anyone else to build their own traps - theatrical ones?
I don't know about theatrics - I've seen a couple of people do an oven on YouTube, they seemed to just be cooking people, but I mean... so was I - so I don't know if they're any different.
Probably the comments that I like the most... are when people say 'I really want to do this', or tag their friends and say 'we should try something like this'. Having the thought that 'maybe I could do something ridiculous instead of just grinding for loot'.
I think a lot of people get stuck in a cycle of levelling and loot grinding, there's a whole other element to it with the social aspect - some people are role-playing. My favourite role-play story is there was a team of four people with nurse outfits, chasing a guy around drilling his butt. I'm not expecting a Shakespearean level of role-play, but people having fun and making their own content. Not just expecting 'oh when's the level cap', 'when are we getting new loot'?
I want to see what people can do with the tools available, and I want Bethesda to add more.
Do you have plans for the next trap?
(Mike told me about his plans, but I can't tell you any specifics. I can tell you that it's both inventive and promising.)
...That's what I'm playing with next, I might do it a different way as I don't know if using a glitch is necessarily kosher. I have some other options... it's one of those things where I'll have to test it in practice rather than just the theory of it.
How long will it be until we see this?
Right now I can't get into the game so I'm not entirely sure... usually if I plan, it's probably a week. I play a couple of hours a day and I'll be messing with it, once I get a working concept I'll start testing it on people and seeing how successful it is, whether they can get out or whether I can fool them, so I'll just tweak it as I go.