With Fallout: New Vegas on the horizon, IGN has republished their eight-page history of the Fallout series, though they've obviously included some updates since the last time we read it. An enjoyable read, in any event:
In 1994, RPG guru and early internet adopter Steve Jackson let slip on a bulletin board that Interplay was going back to armageddon, using his own revolutionary GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System) model. Not surprisingly, Brian Fargo had been an early adopter of GURPS. As Wasteland enjoyed a revival as part of Interplay's 10 Year Anthology CD, development ramped up on Vault-13: A GURPS Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game.
Regarded internally as something of a B-title, "V13" was passed off to a RPG-focused subdivision run by Feargus Urquhart. It wasn't long before the three project leads - producer/programmer Tim Cain, art director Leonard Boyarsky, and lead designer Chris Taylor - picked up a familiar Wasteland-ish vibe off their minor post-nuclear project. Urquhart shifted resources to it, more than doubling their eight-man team. Interplay let him, and then promptly forgot all about V13. Without any oversight from the home office, Urquhart let the project's scope expand at an exponential rate. He and Taylor both started at Interplay as part-time play-testers. Now they were re-igniting a legacy.
Job number one was to emulate the total flexibility of pen-and-paper RPG character creation. That meant a series of character stats that all had significant impact on gameplay, throughout the game. Added to that mix were learned skills, special perks that granted performance enhancements, and binding character traits that affected your abilities. Players would choose which path to take... muscular, minigun-toting medic, ninja-stealthy pugilist, computer hacking sniper, smooth-talking pickpocket with a grenade fastball. Anything - but not everything - was possible. Karma and reputation tracked good and bad behavior, changing in-game relationships and opportunities, and rewarding or punishing as appropriate. Players could even kill children if they wanted, but not without activating hit-teams who actively hunted them down.
To that gameplay, they married an alternate Earth that funhouse mirrored the cheery optimism and sub-surface paranoia of the 1950's, complete with 21st century weaponry. Happy-go-lucky Vault Boy became both mascot and guiding star for the game's often goony, occasionally nasty sense of humor.