Settling Down


There was a time, back in 2012 or 2013, when Hearthfire was announced as a DLC for Skyrim.  Legitimately, I thought it was a joke. Taking care of your own house? Furnishing it and making it the envy of.. who? Yourself? Maybe. It didn’t take long for me to shoot down a similar concept in Fallout 4. I was, however. very wrong.

Explicit warning of Spoilers below – mostly vague, but still there. 

It took me a while to warm up to the concept, truth be told. I started, early on, with the first settlement. It came with a number of people already established, and seemed a very convenient place to send companions when you’re not traveling with them. I built a small shack, furnished it with a few knick-naks and some crates to hold all the random stuff I was picking up. Then I went off, adventuring in the wasteland. I did need to build beds for the companions I recruited, so I ended up building a quick little barracks. Later, I build a random house for some generators. Turned that into a bar and left it where it was. The last two structures I put together simply for convenience  sake – A Power Armor Depot and an Armory where I kept the weapons and armor that I would eventually outfit my settlers with.

For the longest time, That was it. I had everything I needed in those few buildings, a little garden, and a building for water production. Then, something Changed. I saw a video of a fortress on youtube, randomly browsing. I knew you could stack concrete together, but I didn’t know what you could then do with it. The results were astonishing. I realized, then, that that was what I wanted to do.

building individual shacks and personalizing them just wasn’t a thing I was interested, but constructing a massive fortress that encompassed as much of Sanctuary Hills as I could, while also building, effectively, an army to defend it? I was suddenly sold, and This is what i made, after some 20 hours in game, maybe 10 of which were actually productive.

Building a better Fortress

the First thing I had to do, now that I was completely invested in building an army and taking over the Commonwealth, was to start becoming that leader. I shot my charisma up to 6 over the next few levels, and grabbed Local Leader, the perk that allowed settlements to share resources in order to make larger and more complicated… I mean, more balanced and equal settlements. In this case, it was to gather as much wood and concrete as I could to make the walls of the Fortress as imposing and massive as I could.

one of the tricks to building these massive structures is knowing how the game logic functions on two levels. The first is Snapping. objects tend to find their place in the world via this mechanic. If you place a piece of floor tile, the next piece that you place does not need to be manually lined up. Instead, the game understands that you are trying to create a floor, and snaps the new floor tile to one of the four sides of the tile that is already there, depending on your angle, stance, and a number of other factors. You can move the new piece somewhere else, of course, and can even move it between sides of the floor tile until you get the piece where you want it. The game knows your playing with big Lego, and doesn’t try and be a pain in the ass. The second concept is Clipping.  New and old objects alike do not want to be placed within one another. The Game does not want you violating the sanctity of each tiles personal space. This can be extremely aggravating when, like I did, you place your first Shack down, and its floating 2′ above the ground because it doesn’t want to clip on the other end and sits right on top of the earth.

Both of these are important because there are two pieces of building material that do not care, for the most part, for these two rules. The Foundations. Found in the floor section of the Wood Structures, these two pieces are allowed to clip into the ground. I’m guessing that this was to allow floors and structure to be placed on level ground, making the buildings visually appealing and not breaking any laws of physics. in order to be placed on hills, the base of the cement foundation is very tall – as tall as a wall section. This has lead to an interesting “discovery”: If you just barely touch the ground with a foundation section, you can create one of the only smooth, straight structures in the Commonwealth: A cement wall. These will then snap together, and you can form an enormous cement barrier. What is better is that these foundations are completely willing to clip most other objects as well, including other, established buildings that are generally off limit to most of the other objects in the game. This is extremely important when it comes to creating large, sprawling edifices because you want to be able to envelop, or sometimes even eradicate, these buildings, and it just isn’t possible otherwise.

Building on that concept even farther, that’s only the first level of a concrete barrier. Its a single story concrete wall. But what if you want something a bit larger? well, here we have the Stairwell. Normally, Concrete won’t snap on top of itself, unlike second story floors to walls, floor to other floors, and roofs to walls. Instead, you’d be trying to align the concrete perfectly on top of itself in order to have the second layer parallel to the first. The Shack Stairwell, also located in the wood floor section, solves that problem nicely. The stairwell is a structure that is a lower floor connecting to an upper floor via a staircase. The top of the foundation is considered a floor section, so the bottom of the stairwell will snap right too it. The top of the stairwell is also considered a floor section, so cement will snap right to that. all you need to do is put a stairwell on the top of your wall, and you get to snap another level in right on top of the previous one, building the next level of your wall. Then, additional foundations will snap to the newly placed second level, and you can easily put the wall together in no time. My Fortress towers are four stories tall, and my general walls are 3, and topped with wooden railings, it looks like an actual castle wall. These walls have no/little clipping and can create an easy incorporation of existing buildings, creating huge structures you may not otherwise have been able to work with.

There are two other very strong settlement tips that I want to leave you with before we are done with Settlements 101. These are much harder to pull off than imagined, and sometimes can not work and cause frustration, and they are both related to clipping.

First, something I seem to have passed over. When you place an object in the world, there are a number of interactions you can have with it afterward. You can scrap it, destroying it forever and gaining some of the materials you made back. You can store it, putting it in your workbench for later use. You can also select and move it. Finally, you can long-select the item (by holding down the select button instead of simply tapping it) this will select that item, and all items connected to that item, in a chain going from that first item until it finds an end to the structure. This will be important to both tricks.

Floor mats seem to have some weird clipping math, whether its a glitch or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that, more often than not, when you pick up a floor mat, you will automatically pick up the whole structure on a short press. The computer will then pay attention only to the rug in terms of clipping, and will allow you to place the item in question pretty much wherever you want that the rug would normally fit. This is useful when it comes to junk fences, as they are constantly getting mad at trying to clip their supports. This does not work on all pieces, but can work on some. As an additional strangeness, sometimes when you pick up the whole structure on a long select, using the floor mat as a base, the system will allow you to do strange thing, like filling in broken walls, windows and doors. For instance, the Buildings in Sanctuary are run down shells, open to the sky and elements. Fortunately, if you fiddle around with the floor mat/wall combo enough, you can board up the whole house and then decorate the walls to make it look like a much better house, overall. You can do the same with the Ceiling, by combining the Mat Trick and the below trick.

Being able to select an entire structure has, sometimes, a weird advantage to placement. When using the whole settlement, it will only judge a portion of it as being a valid structure, and ignore the other components. What you get is not always predictable, but it can be very useful. I’ve used it to clip roofs into position that wouldn’t snap correctly. The wall would snap in place, but when I went to place the roof, it wouldn’t allow me to do it. building a roof+wall Structure (far away from where I am working to as not to pick up the WHOLE structure), and then putting it in position to allow the wall to snap will, often, get the game to ignore the roof and give me the positioning I need.

Finally, we have the best quality of life exploit in the game. Each settlement has a build size, and the game limits the amount of objects you can place in a given area in order to prevent slowdown in the game and make sure that it can run smooth. Well, that is my interpretation. There is a very simple way to get around it, though, and enable you to make structures well beyond what the game determines is a safe limit.

The game reads the number of objects in a settlement, and does some sort of calculation to determine the size. Removing items (walls, Trees, food, ect) from the settlement causes a recalculation and enables you to build more. The trick here is to take something that isn’t part of the settlement (something from your inventory, likely) and toss it on the ground.  In this example, 15 laser pistols. the game works that way because the game always works that way. you can always toss things on the ground. Then, enter workshop mode. You can now highlight the items you’ve tossed on the ground and store them in your workshop. The game, seeing you removing items from the settlement, then returns settlement space to you based on the item removed. you store the 15 pistols and it gives you 15 pistols worth of space, even though they never counted against the settlement size to start with.

So, get out there, get building settlements, and take some screenshots! Share them with me on Twitter and Instagram. I might be able to build settlements, but furnishing them has been a difficult proposition for me. Inspire me!