The History of Fallout
This article will attempt to show conclusively how and why Fallout was crafted in the manner it was, based primarily on text written by the original Fallout developers.
Research and writing by Sander, edited by Tannhauser. Revised 07-10-2007.
The Beginning of Fallout: GURPS
Fallout originally started out as the first computer game based on GURPS (ref), a well-know pen and paper role-playing system. Initially, Tim Cain was the sole person involved in the project, programming the incipient game engine himself. The goal of the project was to create a computer game that was “as close as you can get to playing GURPS, short of playing GURPS.” (ref) The game apparently succeeded in this aim, as Steve Jackson Games was very satisfied with the implementation of GURPS. (ref) Tim Cain spent plenty of time getting the complex rules of GURPS advanced combat just right (ref), until he was convinced he had developed an engine that "plays very quickly, and accurately reflects actual fighting." (ref)
The project expanded as developers joined the team, though the project was considered a B game within Interplay, overshadowed by Interplay’s acquisition of the AD&D license. (ref) During development, the team maintained the primary goal of "trying to recreate the tabletop gaming experience as best as possible." (ref) This included an open-ended nature, where the player could “go off into the wilderness in any direction and still be able to finish the game.” (ref) Chris Taylor later explained: "We were trying to make a very pencil-and-paper type of RPG. We didn't avoid the previous computer RPGs, but we spent a lot of time to get that tabletop RPG experience into a computer game." (ref)
In early 1997, in the midst of Fallout’s development, Steve Jackson Games and Interplay terminated their deal. Apparently, Steve Jackson Games was satisfied with everything but for the Vault Boy pictures in the character screen, and the execution scene in the introduction. (ref) As the split between Fallout and GURPS became imminent, Steve Jackson remarked “The GURPS implementation they've created is *worth* saving.” (ref) When the contract was referenced over approval rights, Interplay discovered several flaws, which in turn developed into a legal squabble over the contract itself. Eventually, the companies ended with a mutual decision to part ways. (ref) Chris Taylor, while agreeing that the split was a blow to the project, said "instead of compromising and making an inferior product -- Fallout will be produced with conviction." (ref)
When asked to talk about Fallout's combat system, Tim Cain has noted "I think the strength of Fallout's combat system is that it was easy to understand and use, but still complex enough to give you many options on how to fight. Turn-based combat gives you more time to think of battle tactics, so combat feels richer - and a lot of people responded to that." (ref) Additionally, Tim explained "It also showed how popular and fun turn-based combat could be, when everyone else was going with real-time or pause-based combat." (ref) Feargus Urquhart later added "If you want to exactly represent GURPs, D&D or most other PnP RPGs then you have to go turn based, which was the decision for Fallout when it was GURPs." (ref)
With the loss of rights to use GURPS, the Fallout team worked intensely to develop a suitable replacement, one that would work with the completed combat engine. After a few weeks the team had created SPECIAL (originally named ACELIPS, and changed for good reason), developed specifically to work with the designs originally meant for GURPS. (ref), (ref)
Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Setting
The necessity for, and creation of, SPECIAL occurred near the planned release date, nearly half a year before the game was actually released. The setting of Fallout was decided on long before those events, being “a dark game, based on the horrors that 1950's science had predicted for a future apocalyptic world. So we balanced that with humour, by poking fun at those same predictions in a way that would amuse a modern player.” (ref)
Chris Taylor explains: "We wanted to make a game that felt different from the 'elves and dragons' games of the time. Part of that was the setting and part of that was the attitude of Fallout. The intro movie, with the execution scene that ended with a happy wave was one of the defining moments for us as developers. Giving over-the-top violence, with sexuality and language, combined with a happy-smiley view of the 1950s was a conscious decision." (ref)
|Fallout and Children|
In the European versions of the game, children were absent. Ever wonder why?
Simply, Interplay's UK office informed Tim Cain that a game that contained child-killing would either be banned, or at least considered to be in very poor taste. Cain had the options of making the children invincible or removing them altogether, he chose the latter. (ref) According to Chris Taylor, the event that triggered this response was probably the Dunblane Massacre. (ref)
Besides the “future of the fifties” concept, there were many post-apocalyptic influences. Older science fiction movies and novels such as ‘Them’ and ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ proved inspiration, as well as such modern works as ‘Road Warrior,’ ‘Brazil,’ ‘City of Lost children,’ ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Ghost in the Shell,’ ‘On the Beach,’ and ‘Star Wars.’ (ref), (ref) Even the Roger Zelazny novel “Lord of Light” was influential, because of Sam, the protagonist. Tim Cain would “think ‘What would Sam do?’ when testing an adventure seed that required the player to want to help a town.” (ref)
Fallout: A Role-playing-game
It had been clear from the beginning that Fallout was a game strongly rooted in the pen-and-paper tradition. To the Fallout team, this meant giving the player as many choices as possible, each with its own clear consequence. Tim Cain summarized his view of a good RPG in the following passage:
“In a good RPG, you should be able to make a good variety of starting characters and then develop them in very different ways. Your choices should affect the game in meaningful ways, both in the ongoing game and in the ending you get. Of course, the game should be fun to play and easy to interact with, but that’s true for every genre of game.” (ref)
Chris Taylor and Leonard Boyarsky both give similar criteria. (ref), (ref)
Furthermore, Tim Cain wanted to emphasis role-playing by having the player control a single character in Fallout. It would force the player to make choices in character development, balancing positive and negative attributes. Cain felt that parties detached a player, and a single character would draw the player into his or her character. (ref) This vision of consequential role-playing would feature strongly in the finished game.
Fallout: The Game
Fallout was released in late 1997, rising quickly in the charts, eventually to reach number two in sales for October. (ref) By all measures the game was a success, establishing a strong cult following. Fallout was quickly followed by a sequel, and further generated two spin-offs. Currently, the long awaited Fallout 3 is in development by Bethesda Softworks.
Did you guys have a story ready for a Fallout 3? Or what was your plan?
Leonard Boyarsky: We had a few different things we were tossing back and forth, but nothing concrete. We were thinking more along the lines of overall gameplay, functionality, etc. than story at this point.
Would you have made Fallout 3 isometric and with Turn Based combat or would you have followed the same principle that you're using on this PA title?
Leonard Boyarsky: I don’t know how I would have felt about making FO3 anything but isometric and turn based. We did have an extremely high budget idea for another approach, but even in that scenario combat was isometric and turn based. Of course, it’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t have done a paused real time FO3 now, but I don’t know what I would have said if the offer was made. (ref)