Gaming legends: Fallout

Ron salutes the tenth birthday of Fallout, one of the finest computer games of all time.

2008's Fallout 3

As a geek, I get asked a lot of questions.  Since I’m usually pretty opinionated, I can answer them, even if it means the asker of the question gets a fifteen minute dissertation on the effective scare tactics of the first Halloween film or a discussion of shirtless greasy medieval action movies from the 1980s.  

When it comes to a question like, “What’s your favorite____?” I can never give a straight answer.  I love so many different types of things, even in the same broad category, that nailing down a specific favorite is like trying to nail a cube of Jello to the wall.  Except for one particular question:  “What’s your favorite computer role-playing game of all time?”

That game, ladies and gentlemen of Den of Geek, came out over 10 years ago as of last month.  It is the crowning achievement of Black Isle Studios, the game that vaulted Tim Cain into the upper echelon of game designers, and a game that has one of the deepest character creation systems in the history of video games.  This game, still regarded as one of the best games in video game history, is called Fallout.

For those of you who have never played it, Fallout is set in the distant future after a massive global thermonuclear war.  You play as the Vault Dweller, a nameless person who was born and raised in a giant underground bunker, one of a series of bunkers designed to protect civilians and allow humanity to repopulate the earth after the inevitable nuclear meltdown once everything is safe.  However, the Vault is dependent on technology to keep working, and when the Vault’s water supply is threatened, your character is the lucky one chosen to leave the safety of the Vault and journey into the wastelands beyond.  

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Aside from the two objectives you have to do to accomplish the goal of the game, find the water chip and stop the mutant army (oh yeah, there’s an army of super mutants bent on mutating the entire world’s remaining humans), there are no restrains on your character’s actions.  If you want to undertake a certain quest, you can.  If you want to gun down an entire town, you can (assuming you don’t get gunned down yourself).  The game keeps track of your karma points, and depending on your actions, your reception in each town can vary from fawning hero worship to downright hostility.  You can recruit a party of companions to help you on your adventures, or you can go it alone.  You can even try to negotiate your way through the game without actually engaging in combat!

While the incredible depth of game play is the cake, the icing is, without a doubt, the dozens of geeky references within Fallout.  The game itself is designed in a manner similar to Futurama, with a retro-futuristic 1950s science fiction feel.  The transitions, in-game menus, and animatics all feel like something out of an old newsreel, playing up on the Cold War paranoia of global thermonuclear war.  

The in-game items continue the reference parade.  The laser weapons look like something out of Flash Gordon, and the Vault Dweller wears a 50s sci-fi jumpsuit.  An early outfit worn by the Vault Dweller is a one-armed leather outfit like the kind worn by Mad Max (which allows you to recruit an NPC combat pet named Dogmeat, after Max’s dog).  Special encounters within the game include a sighting of Doctor Who’s time-traveling police box, the TARDIS, as well as stumbling across a giant Godzilla footprint.  There are further references to the WarGames and Radioactive Dreams, the game Wasteland, any number of comic books and pulp novels, and even the game Monopoly.  

Even the voice acting in Fallout is top notch, a rarity in the video game world.  Narration for all the Fallout games so far is provided by none other than Ron Perlman (Hellboy), with in-game characters voiced by Keith David, Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver, Stargate SG1), Richard Moll, and Tony Shalhoub (Monk).  No expenses were spared in making this game, and that’s why fans still love it.  

In the ten years since its initial release, Fallout has spawned an official sequel, a cancelled sequel (Van Buren), a sequel in development (Fallout 3), a real-time strategy game (Fallout Tactics:  Brotherhood of Steel), a tabletop game (Fallout:  Warfare), and most excitingly of all, a Fallout MMO is apparently in development.  The online community of Fallout fans is large, international, and active:  patches for the original Fallout are still being developed by fans to this day.  

Here’s to the future!  It may not be a post-nuclear wasteland, but at least we might have a Fallout MMORPG to play on our Pip-Boys.

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Ron Hogan is currently making his own Vault 13 jumpsuit out of duct tape, just in case he needs to roam a desert wasteland.  Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and the Flektor Development Blog.