Fallout’s Creator Solves One Of The Franchise’s Biggest Mysteries

Fallout co-creator Tim Cain finally reveals whether the United States or China started the nuclear war that led to the end of everything.

Fallout 4 nuclear bomb
Photo: Bethesda Softworks

The Fallout series is full of unsolved mysteries. Why are aliens visiting? Where did the obelisk under the Dunwich Building come from? What happened to the rest of the world? But the biggest mystery in the franchise that has persisted since its inception is “Why is the game’s world a radioactive wasteland?” Well, technically we know the answer: China and the U.S. launched nukes at one another, but nobody knows why or who struck first. Until today.

Recently, Fallout aficionado and lore hound TKs-Mantis interviewed one of the brains behind Fallout, Tim Cain. They had a lovely 90-minute chat and got to know each other better. Near the end, TKs-Mantis asked Cain a simple question: If you were the only person in charge of Fallout, where would you have taken the franchise?

This inquiry opened a floodgate of information. Cain had wanted to let players eventually explore other countries post-bomb, but to do so, his team would have had to research how nations such as China and Russia circa 1950 thought the future would look. But no matter what, the games would always have balanced the humor with the dark. And then Cain casually unleashed a bombshell, pun definitely intended. At 1:26:40, Cain laid out what turned Fallout’s U.S. into an irradiated wasteland teeming with mutants:

The reason we got nuked is bioweapons were illegal, and somehow China found out we were doing FEV. And they were like, ‘You have to stop it.” And we went, ‘ok.” And all we did is move it. All we did is move it over.

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In response, TKs-Mantis described Cain’s lore dump as “earth-shattering,” to which Cain expressed confusion. TKs-Mantis explained that most gamers didn’t know who shot first. While Cain ended that segment by coyly backtracking and saying he didn’t know, that it was probably “some rogue nation,” the Cazador was already out of the bag.

Thanks to Cain’s loose tongue, we now know that all of the problems players face in the Fallout games are the result of its fictional version of the U.S. government. The administration was funding and running experiments on the Forced Evolutionary Virus (the FEV), and China retaliated with nuclear weapons. The resulting fallout, pun once again definitely intended, turned the U.S. into a petri dish where the FEV interacted with radiation to create countless mutated and hostile species, including Super Mutants, Deathclaws, and firebreathing ants.

Then again, given the lengths that Fallout’s version of China was willing to go to and the weaponry it utilized, perhaps the U.S. government was right to be fearful and produce biological weapons that could thrive in radiation. As the Fallout franchise has established, there’s no such thing as a good or a bad guy in the post-apocalypse. Most if not all in-game organizations have positive and negative points to them. Caesar’s Legion, for instance, might condone and rely on slavery, but it does a better job of eradicating bandits than the comparatively kinder New California Republic. Who wins tends to be less impactful than who survives.

Still, that’s one Fallout mystery down and hundreds more to go. Hopefully one day Tim Cain will accidentally answer them all.