After the fallout
War. War never changes. Arguably one of the most iconic video game quotes of all time. We’re sure we needn’t tell you where it’s from, most of you would have already guessed (it’s in the title) where it’s from. If you’re a gamer at all, no matter what genre or what console, we’re 100 percent sure that you’ve played or at least heard of Fallout.
So how did it all begin?
Those of you who’ve played any of the Fallout games know the setting. They’re all set in a post-apocalyptic setting where the world as we know it has ended. But how did it all begin? Well for that we need to go back, all the way back to 1984. Meet Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay Productions. He’s the guy who’s responsible for bringing us Wasteland. This is a time when table-top RPGs were the “in” thing and fantasy was the main theme. Going for a post-apocalyptic setting was something new, something that had never been done before. But Brian didn’t care, he had a vision, he wanted to end the world as we knew it(so to speak) and create “an RPG that broke the rules.” And so with the help of Alan Pavlish, and two well known pen-and-paper RPG creators, Michael A. Stackpole and Ken St. Andre, he set out to create Wasteland.
Come 1988 Wasteland finally made its arrival and boy did it arrive. A game where players felt like they actually had an effect on the world they were gaming in. There were multiple solutions to everything. You could recruit NPCs onto your team and they could refuse orders if they didn’t like them, and even ditch you if they felt your leadership failed to inspire them. They got rid of the RPG class system that was the standard and instead incorporated skills which you could level up. Wasteland was – and still is to some – considered one of the best games of the genre, a standard bearer if you will. It’s still often included in several “best games of all time” lists, and with good reason.
Now why are we talking about Wasteland when this article is about Fallout? Well it’s because Fallout is kind of the sequel to Wasteland. Yes yes, we know, “Why isn’t it called Wasteland 2 then?” Let us explain. So after the kind of success Wasteland got, everyone wanted a sequel, understandably. And Brian Fargo was all for a sequel, but he decided that Interplay didn’t need any major publishers and should just publish their own stuff. Starting with of course, the Wasteland sequel.
However, there was teensy problem, the Wasteland IP belonged to EA and they had plans of their own for the franchise. But we don’t really care about that sequel. It’s called Fountain of Dreams btw, if you want to check it out. Never heard of it? Hehe. Interplay and Fargo had meanwhile started working on a sequel of their own which involved time travel and Albert Einstein as a playable character(what?). It definitely was not set in a wasteland, wouldn’t make sense for Einstein to be roaming around in a wasteland. However, the era of the Apple II – the intended platform for release of the game – was coming to an end. And the project was permanently shelved.
What? Oh noes! Where is Fallout then?!
Don’t worry it’s coming. In 1994 Wasteland was enjoying a revival thanks to an Anthology CD celebrating 10 years of Interplay. News slipped out that Interplay was going back to the post-apocalyptic setting and it was initially being called Vault-13: a GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) Post-Nuclear RPG. It wasn’t exactly on Interplay’s priority list though. V13 was passed off to Feargus Urquhart, who ran an RPG focused subdivision in Interplay. He, along with the three project leads – Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Chris Taylor – went back to the Wasteland-ish post-apocalyptic setting. They wanted the flexibility of a pen-and-paper RPG in their own character creation, where character stats and skills had a significant impact on how you played the game. You could learn skills, perks, and choose what path to take – sneak your way past or brute force your way through, you decided.
They also made use of a karma and reputation system to track good and bad behaviour which would affect in game relationships and opportunities. Along with this of course was the 1950s setting we’re accustomed to now. This was also where we’re first introduced to Vault Boy, the iconic mascot of the Fallout franchise. It was decided that “Vault 13” didn’t really click as the title, so they debated between two possible choices, one of which was “Armageddon”, however Interplay happened to have another project under that name so naturally the second choice won, and voilà, Fallout was born.
But the game wasn’t ready for release yet, there were still plenty of squabbles and problems. Eventually, thanks to those very squabbles, GURPS was replaced by S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) at the very last minute. The stat system that we’ve grown accustomed to now, the system on which pretty much every other factor in the game hinged on, was reprogrammed in just two weeks. And finally, on September 30th 1997, Fallout was released for PC.
There was no team of Rangers this time, just a Vault Dweller, a simple man living in a nuclear shelter. He’s forced to leave the shelter in search of a water recycling chip replacement for his vault: Vault 13. And for that he must venture out into the unfamiliar and harsh aftermath of nuclear warfare. Yes drinking water is important and the Vault absolutely needs it to survive but clean drinking water can wait. Afterall, there’s so much to do! People to meet, side quests to pick up, areas to explore, easter eggs to find etc. You could recruit the more helpful NPCs, also including but not restricted to Dogmeat, your bestest pal ever. Your PIPBoy 2000 took care of all the mapping, quest tracking and ability management. The game was isometric of course, looked great, turn-based combat also worked great. Gawd the game was just great overall.
As the player, you had a total of 150 days to find a replacement chip. Add another 350 to that for dealing with the Children of the Cathedral cultists. Oh, and also an army of super mutants who are armed to the teeth. No pressure. The best part about the game was that players could decide how they were going to deal with the situation. You could charm your way through and avoid fighting entirely, or maybe you could borrow some firepower from the Brotherhood of Steel, or you know, you could just sell-out the Vault to the super mutants for some lols and a nice payday.
Well dayum, we definitely need a sequel now
Needless to say Fallout was an instant hit. The spiritual successor to Wasteland had earned its place in the “best of all time” lists and even the harshest of critics were showering it with praises.
Fallout didn’t do as well as expected, we mean for how great a game it was and how well it was received, one would expect more from it in a financial sense. Where it didn’t quite match up. However, it had developed a fan following now. A rabid fan following who demanded a sequel, who wanted more of the Fallout universe. So more they would get, they were already set up for a sequel anyway, with most of the code already in place. The newly dubbed Black Isle Studios got right to it, and Urquhart decided that it would be twice as big as the last. He was given just fifteen months from the release of the original to finish up with the sequel.
Fallout 2 made some fixes to the AI and their obstructive behaviour. There were 14 quirky, and very rememberable possible companions this time around. Also including Dogmeat, who’s well over eighty years old now. Wow, that’s one healthy dog (maybe a ghoul?). A few graphical updates here and there but otherwise, at its core the engine remained the same. But there was still a lot left to do and not enough time to do it. There was simply too much on everyone’s plate. What ensued was a lot of resignations and the result was that pretty much none of the original crew were left working on the sequel. Development was split between two teams who had no idea what the other was doing and the game was put together just two weeks before it was scheduled for disk duplication. But it somehow clicked, sort of.
Fallout 2 had you playing as the Chosen One, a direct descendant of the OG Vault Dweller. You’re forced to leave the settlement the Vault Dweller founded because of harsh drought conditions. The only way to ensure the settlement lives is to search for a G.E.C.K.(Garden of Eden Creation Kit). After a tutorial where you get your PIPBoy and your jumpsuit, you’re off on your own epic adventure. This time around you have to deal with a mutant hating president and his Enclave. Which is pretty much the remnants of the US government. Richardson – the “President” of the Enclave – has kidnapped the people of your settlement for use as his test subjects.
So you need to make your way to the Enclave’s offshore oil rig base to beat the boss and rescue them. Once again, PLENTY of side quests to do, most of them weird to boot. The map was huge, so much so that you actually needed an automated car to get around.
Black Isle managed to make their seemingly impossible deadline, but maybe they should’ve held off for a while. The game was rife with bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Multiple patches were released but you can’t patch up a buggy reputation. Sales also didn’t quite match up to Fallout 1. Critics scored it well, considering it was most of the same, and the “same” was already good. However, some did criticise the lack of any innovation. But the fans didn’t care. They loved the game nonetheless.
Some not-so-fallout Fallout
The next Fallout title to grace us wasn’t exactly a Fallout title. Well it was, but just in name. It looks like Interplay wasn’t really too keen on the Fallout franchise, and Micro Forte, an Australian developer caught the IP. What they gave us was Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel. As the name suggests, it was a tactics game. Nothing less nothing more. No huge world to explore, no side quests to do, no conversations. If anything the game dumped quite few RPG elements in favor of more combat oriented options. Sure it was a nice tactics game, but it wasn’t a Fallout game. Not a real Fallout game anyway.
The Journey to Fallout 3
Come 2000, Black Isle’s just a small crew now, working on a new 3D engine from scratch for Interplay’s next big franchise installment, Baldur’s Gate III. But then it was abruptly cancelled in 2003, wut? The team was shocked, “why would you cancel Baldur’s Gate III?!” But they immediately shifted all of their attention to another project, a backup project if you will, called “Van Buren”. This was of course, the codename for Fallout 3. And Black Isle was more than happy to be working on wasteland again.
Van Buren’s story seemed solid. Prisoner making his escape under attack, hounded by an unknown assailant, you roam around Utah and Colorado looking for answers while choosing to make or break a fading Brotherhood of Steel. Tough choices were aplenty as was the norm, and they were bringing in quick travel as well, although you’d have to work for it. Everything seemed right, and it looked like we would be getting a stellar game. But thanks to the financial status of Interplay because of poor returns in recent years (they were $59 million in debt) and poor management by Titus, it came as no surprise that Fallout 3 was shelved, with most of the work on it already done. Urquhart resigned, took the project leads with him, and went on to found Obsidian Entertainment.
The guys at Titus believed PC gaming was dying (pfft yea, right) and the future was in consoles. So they were like “why waste resources on slow-paced pc games?” So they dissolved Black Isle, laid off whatever little of the employees remained and dished out Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel in 2004. It released only for the Xbox and PS2. Titus Interactive collapsed soon after Brotherhood of Steel landed. No surprise there. While they called it an “Action-RPG” there was nothing RPG about it. Linear gameplay, some platforming here and there, shooting and hacking, and a little bit of puzzle solving. That’s it. Makes Fallout Tactics look more appealing.
Now Interplay was in a tight spot. At this point nobody even knew if they existed. Then suddenly out of the blue, in November 2006 they decide “we wanna make a Fallout MMO.” Well okay then, but where are you going to get the money for that? The estimated start-up price for a Fallout MMO was a staggering $75 million. And they were still $11 million in debt. This is where Bethesda Softworks stepped in and paid off a little over half of their debt. Bethesda were the established kings of the RPG genre at the time with The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind release of 2002. And it turns out a lot of the folks at Bethesda were big Fallout fans. In 2007 Bethesda outright bought the Fallout IP for another $5.75 million. Interplay were given 2 more years to finish the Fallout MMO they were working on.
And we’re finally at Fallout 3
When Bethesda started working on Fallout, they didn’t touch Van Buren. In fact, when a playable demo made it onto the Internet they didn’t even mind. What they wanted was to resurrect the Fallout they knew and loved. Bethesda wouldn’t repeat past mistakes *cough*Brotherhood of Steel*cough*.
Even though it was fully 3D-rendered, had real-time combat, wasn’t isometric, and was kind of an FPS, Fallout was back baby! It was designed on Oblivion’s game engine, hence the familiarity between the two titles. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. was back, the karma system was back, perks and skills were back, whacky side quests were back, everything we loved had been included. V.A.T.S.(Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) was brought in for specific targeting and some bullet time epicness.
We were now in Washington DC, thirty-six years after Fallout 2. New Vault Dweller, new Vault 101. He’s looking for his father who has suddenly disappeared. The Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave are ready to duke it out and that’s the least of your troubles. The Lone Wanderer could visit the other outposts, meet new people, kill them (you don’t HAVE to, you can), help them, do whatever he or she wanted. There was of course quick travel, but why would you do that when there’s so much to explore and do. After 10 years, Fallout finally had a worthy sequel. Fallout 3 went on to outsell all previous Fallout titles and is still played today with an active modding community.
Meanwhile Interplay wasn’t doing too hot with the MMO, and Bethesda took them to court for being unable to meet the license agreement. But Bethesda weren’t able to win and development continued. Interplay went on to announce a teaser site at E3 2010 where potential players could sign up for the beta but it never progressed beyond that. Bethesda settled with Interplay out of court and regained the Fallout MMO license.
Enter New Vegas
Fallout 3 was quickly followed by Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas. Obsidian was of course, made up mostly of former Black Isle employees and so a lot of the folks who worked on Fallout 2 were here. Ideas from Fallout 2 and Van Buren were incorporated into New Vegas which would be a hybrid between the old and new fallout. However, the rushed release came with lots of bugs. It wasn’t ready yet, thanks to which it got poor reviews. But after various patches, mods, and expansions, New Vegas could easily be on par, if not better than any of the previous Fallout titles.
New Vegas had you playing as The Courier, a messenger who was shot in the head and left for dead, with no memories but only revenge on your mind. It was a much more intricate storyline, lot’s of politics and conflict, but Fallout to the core. There’s of course no shortage of weirdness, wouldn’t be a Fallout game without it. For example, there’s a sniper perched on a dinosaur who you can recruit. There was lots more content added to the game as well, thanks to expansions and mods.
Took an awful lot of titles to be able to make a shack
Fallout 4 was swimming in hype. So many promises and from a company that has delivered and then some in the past. After the success of Skyrim in 2011, Bethesda could do no wrong, at least in the eyes of the fans. And Fallout 4 was going to be as amazing as they said it would be. There was going to be a fully fleshed crafting system. The ability to build your own settlements, grow crops, build generators and defences. You know, actually tame the wasteland instead of the just wandering about. Also, the Sole Survivor would be fully voiced and the Xbox One version of the game would get mod support. What could go wrong?
Turns out too much hype is never a good thing. Not saying that Fallout 4 was a bad game but it didn’t live up to the hype it created. The focus seemed to have moved from story to gameplay. It was more like an FPS than ever. Your decisions didn’t feel as impactful and the plot – even though you were given choices to make – seemed linear. The end result was the same no matter which approach you decided to take or which faction you decided to support. Considering that it’s as recent as a year old we’ll hold off on spoilers about the plot. We’re considerate that way.
At its core though it was still a Fallout game. Despite its flaws it’s still very much enjoyable. There’s still those crazy weird side-quests, quirky and memorable NPCs and companions, some ridiculous weapons, and hours upon hours of fun to be had. The crafting system is quite complex and there’s many possibilities to weapon and armour modifications. And speaking of modifications, you can’t forget about the modding community. You can count on them to fix anything the game developers may have overlooked. For all you know, maybe they do it intentionally so that the modders fix it for them.
Almost every title in this franchise has won a game of the year award. It’s one of the few franchises out there that still does RPG right. Need we say more? If you’re an RPG nut the Fallout experience is one you shouldn’t miss at any cost.
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.