The Fallout 3 We Never Got to Play

It's hard to believe that we've been reflecting upon and pondering the "what ifs" around Black Isle Studios' version of Fallout 3 - otherwise known as "Van Buren" - for something like 15 years. It's a history that spans the earliest rumblings, Interplay's financial woes, the resulting cancellation itself in 2003, the leak of the tech demo in 2007 courtesy of No Mutants Allowed, and many articles and interviews since.

Still, I'm not sure anyone has summed up the entire history in one place quite like this new "The Fallout 3 We Never Got to Play" editorial on Eurogamer. That article kicks off with 13 minutes of video coverage that includes interview bites with Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer, so let's run with that first:

And then I'll grab some choice paragraphs from the article itself, which also includes quotes from Avellone and Sawyer:
Although Fallout doesn't rely on distinct classes like many RPGs, Avellone recognised that players still tended to approach situations in one of three ways: relying on either combat, stealth or the speech skill. It was that last approach he felt could use some work in particular.

"The one thing that's always kind of bothered me about Fallout," said Avellone. "Is that there's been a trend, and this is going to sound really specific, of using the speech skill as an instawin. I see the speech skill, so I'm not even going to think about it, I'm just going to choose it because that's going to allow me to get the optimum result from this conversation.

"What I prefer is the mechanics we were going to do for Van Buren. We were going to give you more information about the person you were talking to, the longer you talked about them. Then you'd get to choose dialogue options that manipulate them a certain way. So for example, it may not be a bad thing to make someone hostile because you know based on speaking with this person, getting a sense of their psychology, what they're going to do when they get mad. That might be to your advantage. So seeing the red hostile response may not be a bad thing and a Speech character may want to guide a character towards that and provoke a certain result."

There was other types of playstyle he wanted to accommodate for, on top of this. Inspired by a book called Lucifer's Hammer in which a character manages to take advantage of some advanced scientific knowledge that had been preserved from a time before the apocalypse, Avellone thought it might be fun to explore the idea of how a scientist with access to equipment and knowledge that pre-dated the nuclear war might be able to thrive in the wasteland.


Interestingly, Sawyer cited games retailers as the driving force behind two of the game's design decisions. First up, there was pressure to drop the turn-based combat entirely and replace it with a real-time system, thanks to the success of games like the Diablo franchise.

"That really disappointed me," said Sawyer. "Because I really wanted to make a turn-based game. I still want to make a turn-based game after all this time. So I said: Tactics had a turn-based game and real-time with pause, so could we have something like that? And in my mind, I was just going to focus almost all of my effort on making sure the turn-based combat felt as good as it could."

And they also wanted the game to have a multiplayer element too.

"At that point in time, there was much more pressure - again from retailers - to have co-op multiplayer in everything. I always thought it was a big waste of time because I knew the actual stats of people who played. Even in the Infinity Engine games, you'll find people that say I love playing co-op multiplayer! You're one in a million people. Most people didn't really play it for very long and it was huge amount of work."

By the time the tech demo you're watching was created, Sawyer said the game was realistically more than a year away from completion. Unfortunately, it never made it to that point as Interplay faced major financial struggles and laid off the entire staff of Black Isle Studios on the 8th December, 2003.