The History of Fallout

Article Index

(War. War never changes.)

Like an old friend, those familiar words have greeted Fallout players with each installment of the beloved series. However, while war may or may not change, Fallout has changed with each game. Some of these changes have been met with praise, while others have done nothing more than infuriate the franchise's dedicated fanbase. It's been a long and somewhat shaky history, and we feel it's one that needs to be explored.

So what is Fallout exactly? Our quest for the zeitgeist of Fallout does not begin with Fallout itself, but rather with an older, lesser known gem called Wasteland.

Wasteland (1988)

CHRISTINA rakes Opossum with bullets for 35 points of damage, blasting it into ground round.

The original Apple II version of Wasteland was released in early 1988, with Commodore 64 and IBM versions following shortly thereafter. Produced by Interplay and published by Electronic Arts, it was the first computer game ever to be based in a post-nuclear setting.

As the story goes, the Americans are completing their Citadel Starstation when the Soviets accuse them of creating the station for military ends. An international brouhaha erupts, with the entire globe siding with either the U.S. or the Soviets. Several months later, the Citadel sends out a distress signal. Immediately afterwards, most of the satellites in the world are blown out of the sky. In a panic, both the U.S. and Soviets fire off their nuclear arsenals, plunging the world into darkness. However, people manage to survive and form communities despite the best efforts of both superpowers to wipe the Earth clean. You are a Desert Ranger, the product of the intermingling between a company of U.S. Army Engineers and several communities of survivalists. Your mission is to make the wasteland a safer and more stable place to live.

Those gamers who have only started playing PC games recently may find getting immersed into Wasteland a daunting task. The interface is mostly keyboard driven, though it does feature some less-than-stellar mouse controls. There are no branching dialogue trees either; the player must type in specific keywords in order to get a dialogue response from an NPC. Incorrect inputs are simply greeted with a (What?), making it difficult to know what to say at times. On top of that, when talking to NPCs, players will often encounter text that refers them to (Read paragraph XX). In addition to the extra copy protection it provided, long bits of dialogue or narration was placed inside paragraph books to help compensate for the small amount of memory that was typical of early PCs. Players would often have to consult these books or find themselves completely lost. But if players can outlast the culture shock, they will find themselves playing an RPG still worthy of the many accolades it has earned.

There is more than one way to gut a cat, and in Wasteland, the developers made sure to have as many options open to players as possible. Lock picking wasn't the only way to open a door - brute strength or a melee weapon were options as well. And if all else fails, there always was my favorite (albeit expensive) solution to every problem: explosives. Furthermore, the storyline itself was fairly non-linear. As soon as the player has formed their first party, they are sent out into the wasteland with little guidance of what to do. Wandering into a dangerous monster that is more then your party can handle is an imminent threat from the beginning. This didn't stop gamers from wandering the dizzyingly large wasteland region of the American Southwest, though. With a truckload of side quests and a mammoth main quest, it is a game that players can get happily lost in.

After Wasteland was completed, the team behind the game split up and went their separate ways. Considering the massive success of the RPG (it was one of the best-selling games of its time), one would have expected to see a sequel. Unfortunately, there has yet to be a true sequel to Wasteland. Instead, Electronic Arts chose to produce Fountain of Dreams.

Fountain of Dreams (1990)

Fountain of Dreams was released in 1990 by Electronic Arts for the IBM compatible, though it didn't achieve nearly as much attention as Wasteland.

The story takes place in a post-nuclear Florida, which has since been separated from the rest of the United States due to heavy bombardment. The island of Florida is plagued by many hazards, including mutated animals, raiders, crime families, and the Killer Clowns - group of former clowns who have taken their slapstick violence and turned it into the deadly martial art of Slap-Fu. When the game begins, things have started to worsen for Florida. Not only are dangerous creatures venturing farther into settled areas, but the people themselves are starting to mutate. What makes the latter even more alarming is that Dream Water, the only known substance that slows mutation, has become much more scarce. This has lead to unsubstantiated stories of a legendary Fountain of Youth, which is said to contain water that can cure any ailment, including mutations. You and your companions have decided to go look for the fountain in hopes to solve the problems engulfing the island of Florida.

Fountain of Dreams is considered an (unofficial) sequel to Wasteland, but many fans feel that it didn't live up to the standards they had come to expect from Wasteland. After experiencing the writing and depth of Wasteland, many players were unhappy with the shorter and smaller game. Those players who wish to try Fountain of Dreams should be warned that the beginning is very unforgiving. Expect to die over and over.

Think Fallout is around the corner? Guess again reader! We still have one more entry.

Meantime (~1991)

Meantime was to be another RPG made with the Wasteland engine, but unlike Fountain of Dreams it barely saw daylight before the plug was pulled. Based on the small amount of information available about the game, the storyline was intended to take the player through time where they would interact with certain historical figures (including the likes of Amelia Earhardt and Albert Einstein). Unfortunately, Meantime met its fate just before reaching beta due to the collapse of the 8-bit video game market. Various attempts were made to resurrect it, but eventually the game was abandoned altogether.

Readers may be curious as to why there was never a true sequel to Wasteland. Many variables attributed to the lack of a sequel, but it's interesting to note that Brian Fargo, former Interplay CEO and founder of InXile Entertainment, acquired the rights to Wasteland back in 2003. It is anyone's guess if and when a sequel might yet be developed. Even if fans never get the chance to experience a true Wasteland sequel, there will always be one series of role-playing games that fills the gap quite nicely.

Fallout (1997)

Remember Wasteland? - Fallout Box

Nearly a decade after the release of Wasteland, a spiritual successor to the first post-nuclear PC game finally arrived. Released for the PC in 1997, Fallout continues to be hailed as one of the greatest RPGs ever made.

Fallout allows you to assume the role of a Vault Dweller, one of the lucky few who were locked away in giant vaults buried deep into the earth before a nuclear apocalypse swept the world. Vault 13 has been your home for many years, sheltering you and a small community of other dwellers from the hostile world above. When the game begins, you learn that the vault's water system has broken down, and that you have been chosen to travel into the wasteland in search of a water chip to save your people.

The world of Fallout is large and open-ended, providing a great expanse of land to explore and, for the most part, plenty of non-linear gameplay. Players will find that they are afforded various moral choices during the game, as well as plenty of violence while exploring the wasteland. In fact, the game even offers a setting that allows players to witness the deaths of his or her enemies in the most excruciating fashion possible. The game's violent nature actually ended up throwing a monkey wrench into its development. Fallout was originally meant to use the popular GURPS system, but due to the game's violence, Steve Jackson Games pulled out of the deal. Pen and paper role-playing games had come under the spotlight because of their supposed influence in driving youngsters to devil worship and violent acts. Thus, Steve Jackson Games decided it was in their best interest not to have their system associated with Fallout. Interplay was forced to create their own character development system, dubbed S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck), which ended up becoming a staple for Fallout and successive games in the series.

So what exactly makes Fallout a unique classic? There are a lot of reasons why Fallout is such a great game, but the game's unique atmosphere is probably its greatest strength. Although the game contains all sorts of references to 50's pop culture, it never fails to portray the gritty and dangerous radioactive wasteland one might expect after a nuclear holocaust. Furthermore, there is a real sense that the actions of the player matter. Sure, sending a water caravan to your Vault might buy you some extra time now, but the game makes you understand in a concrete fashion that there are consequences for jeopardizing the location of the Vault. Your actions don't only have an effect during the game, but they also help determine the fate for various people, organizations, and cultures at the end of the game. Without a doubt, Fallout creates a world that is easy to become engrossed with.

The release of Fallout garnered a lot of respect for Black Isle Studios, and it wasn't long before Interplay announced plans for a sequel. The division was also developing Planescape: Torment and helping with BioWare's original Baldur's Gate at the time, but many of the original Fallout team members were still able to contribute to the sequel. Unfortunately, not all of the key contributors stuck around to see it through. Producer Tim Cain, Art Director Leonard Boyarsky, and Lead Artist Jason Anderson all left during the sequel's development to form their own game development studio, Troika Games. The small exodus wasn't enough to halt development, though, and Fallout 2 eventually reached completion.

Fallout 2 (1998)

What is it about a product cycle that makes me want to cry? - Chris Avellone

Fallout 2 hit store shelves in late 1998, almost exactly one year after the original made its debut. The game takes place eight decades after the events of Fallout, though the wasteland isn't a whole lot more inviting than it was back then. After being cast out of Vault 13 at the end of the first game, the Vault Dweller eventually founded a small tribal village called Arroyo. When the game begins, you learn that the village is slowly withering away due to the cruel conditions of the wasteland. As a direct descendent of the Vault Dweller, you're given the task to recover a Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.), a device you're told will help the village restore the land to its pre-nuclear war state.

Finding the G.E.C.K. is no easy task, as Fallout 2 is much bigger than its predecessor. The sheer size and scope of the wasteland is staggering, and there are far more side quests for the player to tackle. Because there is so much to do, players will often times find themselves getting sidetracked from the main quest. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, as finding any sort of significant clue about the whereabouts (or even existence) of a G.E.C.K. requires the player to heavily explore the landscape. Fortunately, the player won't find themselves trying to fight the clock so much in Fallout 2, as was the case in the original game. While the sequel does have a time limit of twelve game years, players should find that amount more than adequate to explore the map several times over.

On first glance, Fallout 2 doesn't look a whole lot different than Fallout. The engine, interface, and control scheme are almost identical, though each of them did receive a few enhancements. However, players will find that the world has evolved since the last time they adventured in it. The wasteland looks, feels, and is much more settled, as is evidenced by the intercity politics and the thriving pit of scum and villainy known as New Reno. People have grown accustomed to survival and have finally found time for things like drug addiction. The wasteland is certainly still there, but it feels much more civilized then Fallout. As civilized as a world can be with talking deathclaws, anyway.

For the most part, Fallout 2 can be considered a worthy sequel. The formula that worked so well in the first game is largely untouched, and fans will find that there is much more content to sink their teeth into. What would the result have been if the game had been taken in a different direction? Unfortunately, we know the answer to that question.

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (2001)

In my time with the Brotherhood I have personally trained fifty initiates and I am proud to say that fourteen of them are still alive and kicking. - Paladin Ragchak

Fallout Tactics was developed by Micro Forté and published by Interplay's 14° East division. Rather than staying within the confines of the role-playing genre as the previous two titles had done, Fallout Tactics was instead developed to be a squad-based tactical RPG hybrid. It is also important to note that due to various contradictions the game had with the lore of the previous two games, many fans (and original Fallout developers) consider the storyline of Fallout Tactics to be non-canonical.

Unlike previous installments in the series, the story of Fallout Tactics does not focus on the vaults and those that dwell inside them, but instead on the organization known as the Brotherhood of Steel. After the events of Fallout, a schism emerged in the Brotherhood of Steel. One faction wanted to admit outsiders to the order in order to build up its strength, while the other wanted to keep the Brotherhood pure. In the end, the purists won out and the other faction was essentially exiled. Ordered to pursue the remaining Super Mutants to the east and across the Rocky Mountains, the exiles built airships and set off. But disaster struck the expedition and many died in a storm that destroyed the airships. The survivors crashed outside the city of Chicago and formed a new Brotherhood, one that accepted recruits from the surrounding communities. The player is one of these recruits, joining in the Eastern Brotherhood's crusade to bring order to the wasteland.

While the graphical look of Fallout Tactics is very similar to that of the previous two games, the way it actually plays is much different. Fallout Tactics totally lacks the free-roaming nature of the first two titles, making it much more linear. Character development isn't as intricate and oftentimes there seems to be no consequence to your actions beyond the life or death of your squad. The only real decisions the player needs to make are tactical ones on the battlefield.

That being said, Fallout Tactics can still be considered a good game by its own merits, though the reasons to hand it praise are much different than the first two titles. Players who enjoyed games like X-Com or Jagged Alliance will feel very much at home with how Fallout Tactics plays. Players create one character to act as their avatar, and then recruit additional squad mates from the Brotherhood ranks. Briefings are given before and after each mission, some of which are provided by R. Lee Ermey who plays as General Barnaky. Mission types are varied, ranging from search and rescue to escorting a supply vehicle through a hostile town. In all, Fallout Tactics provides a solid tactical experience with a light offering from the RPG department.

When the game was released, fan reactions weren't all that favorable. The track record set by the two previous installments garnered very high expectations, and most gamers were expecting a third game in the series rather than a standalone hybrid. Nevertheless, the game received fairly high review scores, and it did offer another chance for fans of the series to return to the wasteland while they awaited Fallout 3. As it turns out, the wait was much longer than expected.

Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004)

Sometimes the meat slides right off the bone, if you know what I mean. - Harold

Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is an action RPG developed and published by Interplay and released in 2004 for the PS2 and Xbox consoles. Set between the storylines of Fallout and Fallout 2, the game places the player in control of a Brotherhood of Steel initiate who has been given the task to find several missing paladins in the town of Carbon. This simple search and rescue mission eventually spirals into a quest to save the wasteland.

Unfortunately, the game bares little resemblance to any of the previous titles. Using Snowblind Studios' popular Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance engine, the developers at Interplay sought to create an arcade-like RPG experience while using bits and pieces of the Fallout storyline and environment. The game does make use of a stripped down version of the SPECIAL system, though it only features a handful of the "perks" (which BoS referred to as "skills") from the previous Fallout games. To make modern weaponry work in an engine originally designed primarily for melee combat, a lock-on system was introduced that would allow a player to automatically target the nearest opponent.

Even before its release, Fallout: BoS was the subject of much disdain. Fans were appalled that a true Fallout sequel still hadn't been officially announced and the shift to console-only almost completely alienated the fanbase of the original two games. The game is still vilified by fans for everything from its incredible amount of storyline contradictions to its "violation" of the spirit of Fallout. To make matters worse, Interplay laid off the entire Black Isle Studios staff a month before the game's release, which meant that the "Van Buren" project many believed was Fallout 3 would never make it to our PCs.

Fallout 3 "Van Buren" (Canceled)

Work on Fallout 3 (otherwise known as Project Van Buren) was inevitably canceled in December of 2003 when Interplay found itself in major financial trouble and was forced to lay off their entire Black Isle Studios staff. We know now that the game was intended to be a true sequel to the first two games and was being developed for the PC.

Black Isle's version of Fallout 3 was to take place about ten years after the events of Fallout 2 in the sunny wastelands of the American Midwest. The player would begin the game in a prison cell, and as he is puzzling a way out, an explosion rocks the facility that knocks the player unconscious. When he awakes, he finds that a hole in his cell wall offers escape to the outside world. From what we're told by the game's original developers, the player would have been forced to elude groups of robots seeking to return him to the facility while attempting to uncover the true reason for his abduction and the mysteries surrounding it.

According to a previous interview we conducted with Black Isle's John Deiley, development of Fallout 3 was moving along at a quick pace before it was canceled. The engine was 95% done and featured fully 3D environments with both turn-based and real-time combat modes. With the engine so far into development, character creation, combat, skills, and the ability to save/load games were all functional. Some of the areas had already been fully designed, and we now know that famous pre-war locales such as the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam were going to make it into the game. With dialogue, maps, and other aspects of the game progressing rapidly, it was generally expected that the game would have been completed on time.

When news circulated that Interplay had pulled the plug on Fallout 3, fans were crushed. The company continued to sink into financial turmoil and eventually filed for bankruptcy, which meant that there was at least some hope that Troika Games, Obsidian Entertainment, or some other reputable RPG developer would obtain the Fallout license. As it turned out, Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights to develop a Fallout 3 for $1.175 million, though Interplay retained all rights to a Fallout MMORPG. Given the company's current status, though, it's highly unlikely we'd ever see such a game.

Fallout 3 (TBA)

Life in the wasteland is about to change.

When news spread that Bethesda Softworks had acquired the license to develop Fallout 3 in 2004, it was greeted with much jubilation. Fallout was saved. Of course, there are many who view the next installment of Fallout with apprehension. While Bethesda's version has been unaffectionately referred to as "Morrowind with guns", the critical acclaim received by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in early 2006 may have helped suppress some fears.

About the only thing we really know about Bethesda's version at this point is that it will take place after the events of Fallout 2 and that the team plans on implementing at least portions of the SPECIAL system we've grown accustomed to. It's currently being developed with the same engine that powered Oblivion, though that doesn't necessarily mean it will be played with a first-person perspective. Until Bethesda releases more details or unveils the first screenshot, we really won't know what to expect from the third installment. And even then, it's anyone's guess as to what the future holds for the Fallout franchise as a whole.