Editor's note: R. Scott Campbell is one of the creators of the original Fallout, responsible for creating its storyline, defining the setting and writing several of the high profile non-player characters populating the game world. In a nut shell: he's one of the most important fathers of Fallout and, ironically, one of the least recognized.
What follows is R. Scott Cambell's editorial on the origins of Fallout, giving us a glimpse into the process that brought us the original Fallout in 1997. Originally donated to No Mutants Allowed in a Word document format, it has been digitized, proofread and supplemented with links and images for your viewing pleasure.
The Origins of Fallout - Part 1
(As best as I can remember it)
Written by R. Scott Campbell, submitted by Michał "deadlus" Bielerzewski
When you are in the games industry, the first question you are always asked is, "What games have you worked on?" Although I've worked on plenty of games in the last 20 years, whenever I mention Fallout people always get excited. For over a decade-and-a-half now, I still get asked questions about the origins of Fallout. Where did the ideas come from? What was working on the game like? What things never made it in?
Over a year ago, I received an email, asking me questions about Fallout’s history. As I began writing answers, I realized that my explanations led to much bigger questions... So, I decided to write this story as my account of how Fallout was born.
Just a little note before beginning: Much of this document is about Fallout and its predecessor, Wasteland. However, there is a bunch of stuff about my life at Interplay Productions at the time. I've highlighted those parts so you can skip over them if you want, but they do contain some funny stories about game development in the early nineties.
It all ties in, I promise!
Ah, I remember 1988 well:. I just turned 16 and like all computer nerds with a fistful of birthday cash, I journeyed to the mall with on my trusty beach cruiser. I went straight to the Software Etc., skirting their rows of Lotus 1-2-3, Word Perfect, and other business software, heading to the back of the store where the real treasures lay: the games.
As I rummaged through the shelves of Apple II, IBM PC, and Amiga games, a striking black and orange box caught my eye. The screenshots inside the front flap were in glorious 16-color EGA. I noticed the resemblance to the Bard’s Tale immediately, but instead of knights, wizards and dragons, this game had guns, explosives, and radioactive mutants. With visions of The Road Warrior dancing in my head, I found the Commodore 64 version and raced home gleefully.
The original Wasteland was a masterpiece created by Interplay Productions and published by Electronic Arts. Everything from Bobby’s Rabid Dog, to Harry the Bunny Master’s mutant rabbits; the Scorpitron in downtown Vegas to the Meson Cannon in the Guardian Citadel. The memories are so vibrant; I still recall the “hold down ESC while in a hazardous space for unlimited experience” cheat.
I was just out of High School in 1991 and I working at the local Egghead Software. Because he knew my love for computer games – and the Bard’s Tale in particular – my manager asked one of his friends to stop by and say hi. That befriend was “Burger” Bill Heineman – lead programmer of Bard’s Tale 3, Dragon Wars, one of the founders of Interplay Productions, and heavily involved in the various ports of Wasteland. Needless to say, he was a bit of a legend to me. We talked a bit about the various games I made in my spare time, the grand old times of the Atari 2600 days, and what it was like to actually make games professionally. He said that I should drop by Interplay’s studios sometime.
As it turned out, my good school friend, Jeremy Barnes worked with Chris Taylor. Chris had just left the glorious life of retail software and landed a job at none-other-than Interplay Productions. The three of us were into all sorts of geekery: Dungeons and Dragons, board games, and especially Warhammer 40K. Not more than a few weeks on the job, Chris invited Jeremy and I over to interplay for a Warhammer game.
That Saturday, with a box-full of miniatures in tow, we arrived. It was the first time I saw what a creative studio was like – movie posters on the wall, a Mario Bros. arcade machine, floppy disks and hardware strewn about – it was like home. As we set up the game on the floor of a meeting room, I met the fourth player of the game – metal studded leather jacket, black-T, scruffy beard, black sunglasses, and a cigarette – the iconic image of Rusty Buchert.
I remember four things about that game: 1) Orks will do anything for Teef, 2) one hundred Gretchen with blunderbusses really can take down an imperial dreadnaught, 3) Squats run very, very slowly, 4) somehow it was possible to make computer games AND get paid for it.
Soon after our game, Jeremy applied to Interplay and landed a job in playtest. As for me – I got a bit sidetracked. I spent the next several months writing a forensic signature analysis program and creating “flying logos” for video presentations. Neat stuff, but not what really called to me.
In early 1991, after giving my buddy Jeremy an earful of my contractor’s woes, he simply said, “Dude. Get a job at Interplay.”
Although Design and Programming was my passion, I spent the next week brushing up on my pixel-pushing artistic skills. My thinking? Artists get paid more, of course!
My interview was with the art director, Todd Camasta. Although I recalled the name, I didn’t realize how prolific he was. He was responsible for much of the art for the Bard’s Tale games, Battle Chess, and Wasteland, completely pushing the boundaries of the new palletized VGA graphics. So, Todd had me sit down in his office and “draw something” in 45 minutes, and then left. For the next hour I clicked that mouse like a telegraph, and DPaint struggled to keep up with my furious pixel hunting. I was about halfway done when Todd came back to his office. He glanced at the image I was working on, frowned, grabbed the mouse and said, “like this.” Suddenly there was a blur on the screen as paint blobs flew over my image. As I watched, the blobs became more and more defined, like a sculptor removing the unwanted stone. In mere moments on the screen was a fantastic image where my sad little picture had been built. As I sat gaping at the screen, he said, “practice more.”
Feeling a little crushed, I left the interview, head hung low. In the lobby, Jeremy was waiting for me. He asked me how I did – though the look on my face probably said everything. “Come with me”, he said and began climbing stairs.
When we got to the playtest department, Jeremy announced, “Hey Rusty! Scott wants a job!” Rusty had been promoted to head of QA (a fancy acronym for Playtest) and, after meeting, chatting about our favorite games and where we thought the industry was heading, Rusty called me the next day and said that I was in.
Interplay, Interplay, Interplay! We sing the Interplay song!”
Some of my fondest memories of Interplay are of the Playtest department. When I started, Interplay had just become its own publishing company; there weren’t many playtesters, but there were a LOT of games to be tested. This usually meant that each of us would work on a handful of games at the same time. For the rare times we had multiple playtesters on a single project, there was an unspoken competition to try and be the absolute best at that game.
For example, I was hired to replace a playtester named Feargus Urquhart (the same Feargus who later ran Black Isle and is CEO at Obsidian). So I inherited his game, Castles 2: Siege and Conquest. Gus had mastered that game to such a level that new rules had to be programmed to prevent his abuse. For instance, in one story, he succeeded at killing the territory owned by the Pope; something considered impossible to the developers. After that, they created a rule that the Pope’s land could not be seized by any player. Of course, that meant I had to outdo him - by being excommunicated, yet still capturing all enemy territories. I figured that after a thousand years of game-time, I was as good as king.After that experience, Tim and I began talking about our love of role-playing games. He had created a cool universe generator based on a lengthy series of charts from GURPS: Space, and I showed off a randomly created dungeon program I had been working on. We both yearned for a chance to work on our own RPG… Maybe someday…
Early in my career Rusty was showing me around the building, and introduced me to Tim Cain in his office. I noticed he was working on a new Bard’s Tale game (the Bard’s Tale Construction Set), but what really got my attention was the color scheme of the interface. In full VGA glory, the interface menus were in a mishmash of bright pinks, browns, and light green highlights. I inquired about the nauseating color palette, but Tim didn’t quite know what I was talking about. It turns out, he’s a bit color blind, and the interface looked just fine to him! That was my first lesson on why programmers should not make art for their games.
Within a few short months of hiring me, Interplay purchased a new building a few miles away. As we were still a young company, (heck, I think I was employee #72), we didn’t have the money to hire a moving company – we were told to grab our computers and stuff and move them ourselves. Thus, the Interplay Fly-By-Night Moving Company was born. We would work during the day, and then by night, carry as much as we could to our new digs on Fitch Street. There were plenty of stories about programmers nearly being crushed by metal desks being carried up a flight of stairs, people securing their office space by dumping as much stuff into it as possible, and forcing some employee pack-rats to take some of their boxes of crap home lest they be “lost” in the move. All in all, it took a week to move the company into our new, larger (if somewhat stale and corporate) offices.
During my time as a playtester, I had the privilege of testing some of the best games in the early 90’s: Alone in the Dark (PC), Out of this World (IIGS), The Lost Vikings (SNES), Rock and Roll Racing (SNES), Battle Chess 4000 (PC), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PC), and more. One of those “and more” games was a small game called Rags to Riches. It was humorous stock market trading game, chock-full of strange and brilliant one-liners (for example, your in-game mother stating that “Broccoli gives your pa the wind something fierce.”) As I was tasked to play it, I noticed that I was doing the same arduous interface clicks over and over. So, I drew up a new method of displaying the stock statistics that required no additional menu shuttling. I showed the lead programmer, none-other than Time Cain, my ideas for the interface change, and he liked them so much he worked overtime to get many of the changes into the game at the last minute before it launched.
After many months of playtest, I was snatched up by Bill “Wheeze” Dougan to be his Assistant Producer (or Ass Prod, as the position is affectionately referred to). Bill was actually one of the map designers for Wasteland, and if you can find the old crew picture from the box, he’s the tall, lanky one in the back with the baseball bat (or is it a shotgun?)
I was put to work immediately on several projects that no other producers wanted – Dvorak on Typing for Norway, for example. Cringe. However, there were some very bright spots. There was the Lord of the Rings: CD-ROM, where we digitized clips from the Ralph Bakshi film and interspersed them throughout the original LotR PC game. What made this so memorable was that it was on a CD-ROM. These things were still new devices for PCs, and the newly retail CD burners were vicious temperamental beasts. They were the size of a suitcase, and would frequently create bad sectors if it couldn’t get the data as fast as it could burn – which was x1, by the way. I remember that we kept the burner in the hall initially, but quickly found that if anyone walked by while it was in use, the vibration of their footsteps would misalign the head and create another 70 minute waste of disc – which ran about $20 a piece at the time! I remember one of the worst mistakes I ever made. Holding the gold master to be sent to duplication for LotR, after waiting the excruciating burn time and checking for hours to ensure there were no disc sector errors, I gleefully and obliviously scrawled “Gold Master” - across the back side of the disc. Sigh.Bill and I went around the company, talking to everyone who had been affiliated with Wasteland, trying to find lost code. Finally, Mike Quarles, the programmer of the C-64 version, still had a stack of floppies that filled in the last of the holes. To make the required changes to the game, the code needed to be recompiled, and after a long search, the backup of the ancient Borland C++ compiler was found, and the new executable was authored. I still shudder to think that the entire code to Wasteland was so close to being lost forever.
Another fun title that came my way was Interplay’s 10th Anniversary. It was to have 10 of Interplay’s classic games; one a year, from 1983 to 1993. It seemed like fun, and an easy enough task - until I actually tried to get the games. I remember walking into one of Interplay's co-founder's office and asking to see the code archives. He pointed to a three drawer cabinet in the corner. The first drawer contained financial file folders. The second drawer contained cables and various old hardware cards. In the third drawer was a few handfuls of 5.25 and 3.5 floppy disks. I say handfuls because they were literally in loose piles – many unsleeved and unlabeled. After scouring each disk, it appeared that most of the code, let alone the actual GAMES were not there. To make matters worse, the older games would no longer run on modern machines. There were just too many changes in operating systems (DOS 2.0 to Dos4GW) and hardware (VGA, sound cards instead of PC speaker, etc.) There would have to be extensive code changes to get these to even run.
All would have been lost if it weren’t for Burger Bill. Luckily, he had personal backups of all of the games Interplay had made, and most of the code archived as well. There were three games he didn’t have the code for: Mindshadow, Tass Times in Tone Town, and Wasteland. Bill proved to be an assembly ninja. He reverse engineered the game executables of Mindshadow and Tass Times back into C++ code. He also used his elite h4x0r skills to remove the copy protection for the other games, but Wasteland still remained a problem.
During this time, I was playing in and running copious amounts of pencil-and-paper Role-Playing games after work. There was a time that four nights a week was a different campaign – from D&D, to Star Wars, to Shadowrun, to GURPS. As it turns out, people who spend all day making games, also like spending their nights playing them. Go figure.