The History of CRPGs, Part Three

Gamasutra has published the third installment of Armchair Arcade's extensive "History of CRPGs" article, this time covering role-playing games released from 1994 to 2004. Included in this so-called "Platinum and Modern Ages" era are such classics as Darklands, Ultima VII-IX, SSI's Ravenloft titles, all of the Infinity Engine games, Arcanum, Neverwinter Nights, The Elder Scrolls I-III, and Fallout 1/2/Tactics.
If I had to sum up Fallout's appeal in one word, it'd be "style." The governing aesthetic is a surreal mix of cheerfully morbid 1950s Cold War imagery and movies like Mad Max, Planet of the Apes, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. There are even hints of The Evil Dead tossed in for good measure.

This juxtaposition makes for some of the most compelling moments in gaming history, and I doubt there is anyone who doesn't get goosebumps the first time he witnesses the introductory cut-scenes. Furthermore, the aesthetics run all the way through the game, including the interface.

Most games switch to a boring menu screen full of numbers when it comes time to level up. Fallout presented skills on "information cards" complete with chillingly cheerful illustrations to keep up the disturbing ambiance. Even the game's manual stayed "in character," presenting itself as a "survival guide" designed to look like a government publication.

Indeed, the manual refers to the game as a "simulation" to help long-term Vault-Dwellers more comfortably prepare themselves for a return to the outside world. It even includes some "survival recipes" for "Mushroom Clouds" and "Desert Salad." It's more than obvious that the development team had a blast creating Fallout, and their enthusiasm radiates throughout.