Fallout (video game)
Jason D. Anderson
Fallout is an open world role-playing video game developed and published by Interplay Entertainment in 1997. The game has a post-apocalyptic and retro-futuristic setting, in the aftermath of a global nuclear war in an alternate history timeline mid-22nd century. The protagonist of Fallout is an inhabitant of one of the long-term shelters known as Vaults who is tasked to find the Water Chip to save other dwellers from water shortage.
Fallout is considered to be the spiritual successor to the 1988 role-playing video game Wasteland. It was initially intended to use Steve Jackson Games' system GURPS, but Interplay eventually used an internally developed system SPECIAL. The game was critically acclaimed and inspired a number of sequels and spin-off games, known collectively as the Fallout series.
Gameplay in Fallout centers around the game world, visiting locations and interacting with the local inhabitants. Occasionally, inhabitants will be immersed in dilemmas which the player may choose to solve in order to acquire karma and experience points. Fallout deviates from most role-playing video games in that it often allows for the player to complete tasks in multiple ways, often choosing solutions that are unconventional or even contrary to the original task, in which case the player may still be rewarded. The player's actions may ultimately dictate the ending of the game, or what future story or gameplay opportunities are available. Ultimately, players will encounter hostile opponents (if such encounters are not avoided using stealth or diplomacy), in which case they and the player will engage in combat. Non-combat portions of the game are typically played in real-time.
Combat in Fallout is turn-based. The game uses an action point system wherein, each turn, multiple actions may be performed until all points in the pool have been expended. Different actions consume different numbers of points, and the maximum number of points that can be spent may be affected by such things as chems or perks. 'Melee' (hand to hand) weapons typically offer multiple attack types, such as 'Swing' and 'Thrust' for knives. Unarmed attacks offer many attack types, including 'Punch' and 'Kick'. Players may equip at most two weapons, and the player can switch between them at the click of a button. The Perception attribute determines characters' 'Sequence' number, which then determines the order of turns in combat; characters with a higher statistic in this attribute will be placed at an earlier position in the sequence of turns, and subsequently get new turns earlier. Perception also determines the maximum range of ranged weapons, and the chance to hit with them.
A diverse selection of recruitable non-player characters (NPCs) can be found to aid the player character in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Examples include Ian, an experienced traveler and gunman who can equip a pistol or SMG; and Dogmeat, an NPC of a dog the player may recruit in Junktown by either wearing a leather jacket or feeding the dog an iguana-on-a-stick. Unlike in Fallout 2, there is no limit to the number of NPCs that the player may recruit, and NPCs' statistics and armor in Fallout remain unchanged through the entire game; only their weapons may be upgraded.
The protagonist is governed by the system called SPECIAL (an acronym for "Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck"), designed specifically for Fallout and used in the other games in the series. The player begins Fallout by selecting one of three characters to play as the protagonist, or alternatively they can create one with custom attributes using the system. Character development is divided into four categories: attributes, skills, traits and perks. These have been copied or otherwise adapted in some form or another through the ensuing iterations of the series.
Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck are the seven basic attributes of every character in the game. The SPECIAL stats continually add bonuses to skills. This is done 'on the fly', i.e. if the SPECIAL stats change, the bonuses are automatically and instantly adjusted. Some 'perks' and coded events within the game require a certain level of particular SPECIAL stats.
There are 18 different skills in the game, ranging in value from 0 to 200 percent. The starting values for Level 1 skills are determined by the player's seven basic attributes, and initially fall within the range of 0 to 50 percent. Every time the player gains a level, skill points are awarded that can be used to improve the character's skills. The player may choose to tag three skills that will improve at twice the normal rate and receive a bonus at the start. Skills are divided into three categories: combat, active and passive. Books, although scarce in the early game, can be found throughout the game world, and permanently improve a specific skill when read. However, after a skill reaches a certain level, books no longer have an impact. Some NPCs can also improve skills via training. Some skills are also improved by having certain items equipped. For instance, a lockpick improves lock-picking skills. Stimulants can also temporarily boost a player's skills, however, they often have adverse effects such as addiction and withdrawal.
Traits are special character qualities which can have significant effects on gameplay. At character creation, the player may choose up to two traits. Traits typically carry benefits coupled with detrimental effects. For example, the trait "Small Frame" improves agility by one point, but negatively affects maximum carrying capacity. Once a trait is chosen, it is impossible to change, except by using the "Mutate" perk which allows a player to change one trait, one time.
Perks are a special element of the level up system. Every three levels (or every four if the player chooses the "Skilled" trait), the player is presented with a list of perks and can choose one to improve their character. Perks grant special effects, most of which are not obtainable via the normal level up system. These include letting the player perform more actions per round, or being able to heal wounds faster. Unlike traits, perks are purely beneficial; they are offset only by the infrequency with which they are acquired.
The game also tracks the moral quality of the player character's actions using a statistic called Karma, as well as a series of reputations. Karma points are awarded for doing good deeds, and are subtracted for doing evil deeds. The effect of this statistic during the course of the game is minimal; however, the player character may receive one of a number of "reputations", that act like perks, for meeting a certain threshold of such actions, or for engaging in an action that is seen as singularly and morally reprehensible.
Fallout is set in a timeline which deviated from our own in 1969 right before the Apollo 11 missions, and where technology, politics and culture followed a different course, therefore, while technology advanced, culture and society progress has remained stagnated, giving the general world appearance of 1950s art deco, while having advanced technology.
In the 21st century, a worldwide conflict is brought on by global petroleum shortage. Several nations enter Resource Wars over the last of non-renewable commodities, namely oil and uranium from 2052 to 2077. China invades Alaska in the winter of 2066, causing the United States to go to war with China and using Canadian resources to supply their war efforts, despite Canadian complaints. Eventually the United States violently annexes Canada in February 2076 and reclaims Alaska nearly a year later. After years of conflict, on October 23, 2077, a global nuclear war occurs. It is not known who strikes first, but in less than two hours most major cities are destroyed. The effects of the war do not fade for the next hundred years and as a consequence, human society has collapsed leaving only survivor settlements barely able to eke out a living in the barren wasteland, while a few live through the occurrence in underground fallout shelters known as Vaults. One of these, Vault 13, is the protagonist's home in Southern California, where the game begins in 2161, 84 years after the war.
The player controls a vault resident sent into the wasteland to save the vault. The player can create a custom protagonist or choose to be one of three already available; Albert Cole, a negotiator and charismatic leader, whose background is somewhat in the legal system; Natalia Dubrovhsky, a talented acrobat and intelligent and resourceful granddaughter of a Russian diplomat in the Soviet consulate in Los Angeles, and Max Stone, the largest person in the Vault, known for his strength and stamina but lacking intelligence. Each of the three characters present either a diplomatic, stealthy or combative approach to the game. Games set later in the Fallout series refer to the player's protagonist as "the Vault Dweller," and official canon states the Vault Dweller was a male, but his name is unspecified.
The player is also allowed to recruit three companions to aid them in their quest - Ian, a guard in Shady Sands, Tycho, a desert ranger in Junktown, and Katja, a member of the Followers of the Apocalypse living in the Boneyard. Other characters in the game include Aredesh, the leader of Shady Sands, Killian Darkwater, the mayor of Junktown, the Master, the leader of the super mutant army, and Morpheus, the master's right-hand as the leader of the Children of the Cathedral.
In Vault 13, the Water Chip, a computer chip responsible for the water recycling and pumping machinery of the vault, malfunctions. With 150 days before the Vault's water reserves run dry, the Vault Overseer tasks the protagonist, the Vault Dweller, with finding a replacement. He or she is given a portable tablet-like device called the "Pip-Boy 2000" that keeps track of map-making, objectives, and bookkeeping. Armed with the Pip-Boy 2000 and meager equipment, the main character is sent off on the quest. The player has free rein across the Fallout world to travel where they wish and do as they like, but other games clarify what the Vault Dweller canonically did.
The player character travels to Vault 15, the closest known Vault that may be able to provide help, but finds it collapsed into ruin and abandoned. The survivors of Vault 15 have founded a town named Shady Sands, and the player character is given the options to defend them from the Khans, a group of raiders that attack the town, and radscorpions, mutated scorpions that plague the town's herds. The player character then travels south to Junktown, where they can help the mayor, Killian Darkwater, bring the corrupt casino head Gizmo to justice, or help Gizmo assassinate Killian to take over the town. Further south the player character finds The Hub, a bustling merchant city, where the player has the option to hire water caravans to aid Vault 13 and extend their estimated survival by 100 days. With clues from the Hub, the player character travels to Necropolis, a city of mutated humans called ghouls. Under the city the player finds Vault 12 and recovers a Water Chip.
Upon returning the chip, the Vault is saved, but the Overseer is concerned about the reports of large mutated humans the player character encountered, dubbed "super mutants." Believing the mutations too widespread and extreme to be natural, and that they pose a threat to the Vault, the Overseer charges the player character to find the source of the mutations and stop them. The player finds aid in the Brotherhood of Steel, remnants of the United States government and army that survived the war and now research technology. The Brotherhood supplies the player character with equipment and information on the super mutants. The player character travels to the Boneyard, the ruins of Los Angeles, and finds the cult-like Children of the Cathedral operating around the wasteland are a front for the Master, using the Children to preach his message to wastelanders and get them to submit to him peacefully.
The player character explores the Cathedral of the Children and finds a prototype Vault beneath it where the Master commands his army. Disguised as one of the Children, the player character infiltrates the Vault and destroys the Master. The player then travels north to a military base, where the Master was using a mutagen called the Forced Evolutionary Virus to mutate humans into his super mutants. The player character destroys the base, stopping the creation of more super mutants and splintering their army. The player character returns to the Vault and is greeted at the entrance by the Overseer. The Overseer is happy that the Vault's safety is secured, but fears the player character's adventure has changed them, and that hero worship of them in the Vault may encourage others to leave. For the greater good of the Vault and to preserve its isolation, the player character is exiled into the wasteland.
If the player does not return to the Vault with the Water Chip before the Vault's water reserves run out, the game is automatically lost. In earlier versions of the game, if the player did not destroy the military base and the Master before 500 days passed, the mutants found Vault 13 and invaded it, resulting in an automatic loss. This time limit is shortened to 400 days if the player hires water caravans from the Hub, as the caravans travelling the Vault allow the mutant scouts to find it easier. The 1.1 patch of the game, and subsequent re-releases of the game, extend this time limit to 13 years, effectively giving the player enough time to do as they wish. There is also an optional alternate ending triggered if the player character has a negative reputation or the "Bloody Mess" trait, where after the Overseer exiles them, the player character shoots and kills him.
Fallout was created by Interplay Entertainment as a spiritual successor to their 1988 post-apocalyptic role-playing game Wasteland. It is not an official sequel, although it was initially developed as one, because Interplay did not have the rights to Wasteland at that point. The budget for the game was approximately three million dollars. In the early stages of planning, other settings based on the GURPS role-playing game system handbooks were considered, including a time-travel theme with aliens and dinosaurs. The game's working titles included GURPS: Wasteland and Vault 13: A GURPS Post-Nuclear Adventure. The final title Fallout was suggested by the Interplay boss Brian Fargo.
Tim Cain created the game engine and most of the design for the game. He worked on it, by himself, developing the mechanics of the design and incorporating a then-popular pen and paper role-playing game system GURPS by Steve Jackson Games, but that deal fell through. According to IGN, this was due to Steve Jackson Games objecting to the excessive amounts of violence and gore included in the game, forcing Interplay to change the already implemented GURPS system to the internally developed SPECIAL system. According to Steve Jackson Games, this was a decision taken by Interplay, with no reason given.
Cain said they "all loved X-COM" and that the original version of Fallout (known as Vault 13, before the game was redesigned after they lost the GURPS license) featured combat very similar to the battles in UFO: Enemy Unknown.
Cain worked with fellow employees at Interplay in their spare time, starting in 1994. He built the engine alone in six months, given no money and no resources, only time. Later, Cain assembled a team of 30 people to work on the game for the next three years. The game was nearly cancelled after Interplay acquired the licenses to the Forgotten Realms and Planescape Dungeons & Dragons franchises, but Cain convinced Interplay to let him finish the work on his project. Later, after the success of Diablo, Cain successfully resisted the pressure to convert the game to multiplayer and real-time based.
A number of well-known actors were cast as voice-talents. The game's narrations were performed by Ron Perlman and the prologue featured one of the foremost iconic catch phrases of the game series: "War. War never changes"; Perlman was re-invited to, and narrated, several later Fallout games. Other appearances included Richard Dean Anderson as Killian, David Warner as Morpheus, Tony Shalhoub (credited as Tony Shalub) as Aradesh, Brad Garrett as Harry, Keith David as Decker, Richard Moll as Cabot, and Tony Jay as The Mutant Lieutenant. Interplay intended to use "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" by The Ink Spots for the theme song, but could not license the song because of a copyright issue. This song was later licensed by Bethesda for Fallout 3. The song "Maybe" by the same artists was used instead for the original Fallout theme song.
At one point in Fallout's development, in Junktown, if the player aided local sheriff Killian Darkwater in killing the criminal Gizmo, Killian would take his pursuit of the law much too far, to the point of tyranny, and force Junktown to stagnate. However, if the player killed Killian for Gizmo, then Gizmo would help Junktown prosper for his own benefit. The game's publisher did not like this bit of moral ambiguity and had the outcomes changed to an alternate state, where aiding Killian results in a more palatable ending.
Influences and references
Fallout draws much from 1950s pulp magazines, classic science fiction films such as Forbidden Planet and superhero comics of Atomic Age: computers use vacuum tubes instead of transistors; energy weapons exist and resemble those used by Flash Gordon. Fallout's menu interfaces are designed to resemble advertisements and toys of the same period; for example, the illustrations on the character sheet mimic those of the board game Monopoly, and one of the game's loading screens is an Indian Head test card. A lack of this retro stylization was one of the things for which the Fallout spin-offs were criticized, as retro-futurism is a hallmark of the Fallout series.
There are also many references to various works of post-apocalyptic science fiction, such as Mad Max and Radioactive Dreams. One of the first available armors is a one-sleeved leather jacket that resembles the jacket worn by Mel Gibson in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The player can also get a dog, as in Mad Max 2 and A Boy and His Dog, named Dogmeat. Fallout contains numerous Easter eggs referencing 1950s and 1960s pop culture. Many of these can be found in random encounters, which include a vanishing TARDIS from Doctor Who (complete with sound effect), an enormous reptilian footprint, and a crashed UFO containing a painting of Elvis Presley. The game also refers to other pieces of fiction, including WarGames and Blade Runner.
Although the time frame of Wasteland is completely different from Fallout—and despite the fact that the game's designers deny that Fallout or Fallout 2 take place in the same universe as Wasteland—there are many references to the events and the style of Wasteland in the Fallout series, which is why Fallout is sometimes regarded as a spiritual successor to Wasteland. For example, the protagonist can meet an NPC named Tycho, who mentions that he is a Desert Ranger and, under the right conditions, will talk of his grandfather, who told him about Fat Freddy, a character from Las Vegas in that game.
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The game, along with its two follow-ups, Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics, were later sold together as part of the Fallout Trilogy. Fallout and Fallout 2 also appeared together in "dual jewel" format.
Fallout was met with a very favorable critical reception. Computer Gaming World called it "a game that clearly was a labor of love...with humor, style, and brains to spare, and with a wonderfully refreshing emphasis on character development and decision making." PC Gamer opined this "tightly integrated mix of combat, storytelling and puzzling keeps the pace brisk and lively, and it'll keep you coming back for more." According to Strategy Plus, "in an age where many are predicting the death of traditional RPGs at the hands of multiplayer extravaganzas, Fallout is a glowing example of the genre, one which positively radiates quality."
The game won the "RPG of the Year" award by GameSpot in 1997 and the "RPG of the Year" by Computer Gaming World in 1998, called "quite simply the best RPG to hit the PC in years." It was nominated in the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences' first annual Interactive Achievement Awards in the categories "Computer Role Playing Game of the Year" and "Outstanding Achievement in Sound and Music".
Over the years since its release, Fallout was ranked as the fourth (2001), tenth (2005), 13th (2007), 21st (2008) and seventh (2010) best PC game of all time by PC Gamer, fifth (2007) and 19th (2009) top PC game of all time by IGN, and 21st (2007) best PC game ever by PC Zone. IGN also ranked it as the 55th (2005) and 33rd (2007) top video game of all time overall, as well as the 34th top RPG in 2013.
Fallout has been inducted into "Hall of Fame" or equivalent of Computer Gaming World, GameSpot, GameSpy and IGN, among others. In 2012, Fallout was exhibited as part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's "The Art of Video Games" exhibition under the category of "adventure" games (along with Fallout 3).
In addition, Fallout was included on the lists of top ten best endings and best game worlds by GameSpot in 2000, and top openings by Game Informer in 2008, while Polish web portal Wirtualna Polska ranked it as the sixth most addictive classic game.
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Greg Kasavin finds out what's in store for the sequel to GameSpot's 1997 RPG of the Year, including story details and tons of screenshots.
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