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Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the series, the folks over at PCGamesN have spoken to the masterminds behind the original Fallout about the making of this legendary RPG. As a result, we're treated to a story of how a bunch of guys came up with their dream game over pizzas, with little to no oversight from any of the higher ups at the company, and how over the years that game has managed to become one of the most iconic and recognizable pieces of media. An excerpt:
One day, Fargo sent out a company-wide email to canvass opinion. He wanted Interplay to work on a licensed game, and had three tabletop properties in mind. One was Vampire: The Masquerade. Another was Earthdawn, a fantasy game set in the same universe as Shadowrun. And the third was GURPS, designed by Games Workshop’s Steve Jackson.
The team picked the latter, overwhelmingly, because that was what they played in their own sessions. But GURPS wasn’t a setting - it was a Generic Universal RolePlaying System. And so Interplay’s team had to come up with a world of their own.
“I would send out an email saying, ‘I’m in Conference Room Two with a pizza’,” Caine says. “And if people wanted to come, on their own time, they could do it. Chris [Taylor, lead designer], Leonard [Boyarksy, art director], and Jason [Anderson, lead artist] showed up.”
Interplay at the time was almost like a high school, as map layout designer Scott Evans remembers it: incredibly noisy and divided into cliques. Caine was building a clique of his own.
Traditional fantasy was the first idea to be dismissed. The team actually considered making Fallout first-person, a decade early - but decided the sprites of the period didn’t offer the level of detail they wanted. Concepts were floated for time travel, and for a generation ship story - but one after the other, they were all pushed aside and the post-apocalypse was left.
“One thing I didn’t like was games where the character you’re playing should know stuff that you, the player, don’t,” Caine says. “And I think the vault helped us capture that, because both you the player and you the character had no idea what the world was like. The doors opened and you were pushed out. And I really liked that, because it meant we didn’t have to do anything fake like, ‘Well you were hit on your head and have amnesia’.”
There was plenty about the Fallout setting that wasn’t as intuitive, however. Players would have to wrap their heads around a far-future Earth and a peculiar retro aesthetic, even before the bombs started dropping. The question of how Fallout ever survived pitching is answered with a Caine quip: “What do you mean, pitch?”
For a short while, Interplay had planned to make several games in the GURPS system. But soon afterwards they had won the D&D license, a far bigger property that would go on to spawn Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. As a consequence, Caine’s team were left largely to their own devices.
During development, a QA tester came to the team with a problem: you could put dynamite on children.
“Where you see a problem...,” Urquhart says. He is joking, of course, yet the ability to plant dynamite - achieved by setting a timer on the explosive and reverse pickpocketing an NPC - became a supported part of the game and the foundation of a quest. This was a new kind of player freedom, matched only by the freedom the team felt themselves.
“We were really, really fortunate,” Boyarsky says. “No-one gets the opportunity we had to go off in a corner with a budget and a team of great, talented people and make whatever we wanted. That kind of freedom just doesn't exist.
“We were almost 30, so we were old enough to realise what we had going on. A lot of people say, ‘I didn't realise how good it was until it was over’. Every day when I was making Fallout I was thinking, ‘I can't believe we're doing this’. And I even knew in the back of my head that it was never going to be that great again.”
Once Fallout came out, it was no longer the strange project worked on in the shadows with little to no oversight. It was a franchise with established lore that was getting a sequel. It wasn’t long before Boyarsky, Caine, and Anderson left to form their own RPG studio, Troika.
“We knew Fallout 1 was the pinnacle,” Boyarsky says. “We felt like to continue on with it under changed circumstances would possibly leave a bad taste in our mouths. We were so happy and so proud of what we'd done that we didn't want to go there.”