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Fallout - A Complete History

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Ty Richardson
The Fallout franchise has changed hands, and come a long way from its humble beginnings as a simple isometric single-player game, all the way to Fallout 76. But did you know Fallout 76 is not the first multiplayer Fallout game that was developed? What was Fallout Online? Join Mojoplays for a complete history of the Fallout franchise.

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“War… War never changes.” It's a phrase that seems so basic but means so much to us all. Not only does it serve as the introduction to the world of “Fallout,” it's also the embodiment of the franchise’s struggle to stay alive. Today, we know it as one of Bethesda’s money printers, but much like a Vault dweller venturing out into the Wasteland for the first time, “Fallout” had everything going against it.

In 1988, Interplay Productions (along with publisher Electronic Arts) had launched a sci-fi RPG known as “Wasteland”. The game had players exploring a world that was still suffering from a traumatic nuclear war. “Wasteland” was a critical and commercial success, and Interplay would soon begin development for a sequel called “Fountain of Dreams”. Unfortunately, “Fountain of Dreams” would eventually be moved in mid-development, and Electronic Art would develop and publish the game themselves, ultimately turning it into something completely unrelated. Interplay would try their hands at another sequel, “Meantime”, which would be canceled due to the decline of computer sales in late 80’s and early 90’s.

Even though Interplay still wanted to make a sequel to “Wasteland”, Electronic Arts held the rights to the series, so their hands were tied, but not all was lost. In 1994, Interplay had acquired the rights to develop games using the “Generic Universal Role-Playing System”, aka “GURPS”. Sometime around this acquisition, Interplay employee Tim Cain had been toiling away on a game of his own. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game ran on a game engine Cain had built on his own, and eventually, his colleagues would join him in making this game a reality. Cain has often recalled instances where producers would be irritated with him for distracting their teams while developing other games. Hey, with an XCOM-inspired combat system, we’d probably be doing the same thing!

Despite Cain’s game having full support from his team, Interplay executives would prove to be obstacles, which led to the game nearly being canceled three times. The first time it was threatened with cancellation was simply because it wasn’t a “Dungeons & Dragons” game. Interplay had owned the license for “D&D” games and wanted to continue shelling out those types of games. The second time was due to the popularity of Blizzard’s “Diablo”. Interplay took note of the game’s success and demanded Cain to change almost his entire game. What almost got the whole project shutdown was when the creator of GURPS, Steve Jackson Games, got a look at it. Steve Jackson Games disapproved of Cain’s game, citing the graphic violence and humor. As one could guess, they took away Interplay’s rights to GURPS, forcing Cain and colleague Chris Taylor to completely rework their game’s system within two weeks.

But despite these hurdles, “Fallout” released for MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows computers on October 10, 1997. Contrary to Interplay’s dismissive notions about the game, “Fallout” would become a commercial success for the company, selling over fifty thousand copies before the end of the year. In December 1997, Cain would announce he and his team would begin development for a sequel.

In what could be seen as a sign of new beginnings, Cain and his team moved to Black Isle Studios, where “Fallout 2” would become the studio’s first game. For the next eight months, Cain and company would work rigorously to make sure the game would launch by its targeted September release. This short time frame meant that the team had less time to craft the world, which led to the solution of incorporating more wasteland quests. To compensate for empty spaces between destinations, “Fallout 2” would be filled with more quests for the player to engage in, ranging from the adventurous to the outright ridiculous. Additionally, Cain and his team had decided to remove the idea of time-constrained quests, a criticism that, while minor, plagued the first game.

“Fallout 2” released on September 30, 1998, and became just as successful as its predecessor. Critics and fans raved about the game’s writing and for keeping its formula the same as the first game. The only criticism was that the game was as buggy as a swarm of Radroaches.

We’d like to say things got easier for the “Fallout” franchise, but that’d be like saying there’s a “Fallout” game with a happy ending. In the early 2000’s, Interplay was facing deep financial trouble, and in their moment of crisis, the company would rely on reputation alone to sell games. While 2001’s “Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel” received solid reviews, fans were critical of the game’s contradictions in plot as well as its numerous bugs and glitches. As for 2004’s “Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel”... Well, to make a long story short, it’s one of the worst games ever and was about as angsty as your typical teenager. So, it resembled nothing close to “Fallout” outside of its name. This would be the last “Fallout” game under the Interplay name before the franchise would be licensed by and eventually sold to a very eager Bethesda Softworks.

Prior to Bethesda’s acquisition, a “Fallout 3” was already in development at Black Isle Studios under the codename “Van Buren”. The game had already been hindered twice due to other projects getting canned before Black Isle began picking up speed. Unfortunately, in the midst of their aforementioned financial struggles, Interplay chose to close Black Isle, ceasing development for “Van Buren” in favor for their in-house made “Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel”. Members of Black Isle would be transferred to Interplay’s HQ to work on “Brotherhood of Steel 2” before that project got canned as well.

As for the “Fallout 3” we know and love, most Bethesda Softworks employees (most notably, director Todd Howard) were fans of the original “Fallout” games. In a respectful gesture to the source material, the studio opted to set their “Fallout” games several years after “Fallout 2”. They also wanted to take “Fallout” in a new direction gameplay-wise while also incorporating unique ideas for quests and mechanics. A prime example of this was the reworking of the V.A.T.S. system. Taking a page from the “Burnout” games, Bethesda decided to use VATS as a visually unique feature, allowing players to kill enemies into an explosion of viscera and ragdoll physics.

“Fallout 3” released in North America on October 28, 2008. The game received glowing reviews from critics and fans, taking home multiple “Game of the Year” awards and even earning a spot at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2012. By the end of 2008, the game had sold 4.7 million copies.

As much as Bethesda wanted to get started on a new “Fallout” game, they still had to finish up their newest project “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”, and the studio knew it would be a while before they could belt out a sequel. This led to them hiring Obsidian Entertainment, a studio founded by former Interplay developers as well as a few key members from the original “Fallout” teams. With so many familiar faces working on this project, Obsidian decided to take story elements from the canceled “Van Buren” game and reshape them for this new one.

“Fallout: New Vegas” first launched in North America on October 19, 2010, a mere eighteen months since the game’s development began. Much like “Fallout 3”, “New Vegas” saw monumental success both critically and commercially. Unfortunately, this would be the last time players got to journey into the Wasteland for the next few years.

After the release of “New Vegas”, the “Fallout” franchise went dark for three and a half years. Fans were eagerly waiting to see what Bethesda had in store, especially considering the gaming industry had transitioned into a new generation of consoles. However, we wouldn’t see any answers until June 2, 2015, when Bethesda launched a website with a countdown timer and the words “Please Stand By.” “Fallout 4” was revealed the following day, with a trailer showcasing various locations. Although, one of the most glaring features was that this was a new “Fallout” game running on an entirely different game engine. Bethesda had developed “Fallout 4” using the Creation Engine, which was also used to create “Skyrim.” In the months leading up to launch, Bethesda would show the public different areas of the Commonwealth as well as a new feature for the “Fallout” brand - base building. This would stir up a commotion within the “Fallout” fanbase. Some dismissed the concept as an unnecessary gimmick while others embraced the idea of forging their own settlements. “Fallout 4” was going to have a polarizing launch.

“Fallout 4” released worldwide on November 10, 2015. Reviews were solid, and the game went on to win several awards, but the base building was still being debated. Gaming pundits, media outlets, and YouTubers were shelling out articles and videos, defending or arguing against the base-building aspect. Nevertheless, “Fallout 4” still sold millions and millions of copies.

Now, here we are, on the verge of a brand new “Fallout” game with a new idea for the series - online multiplayer. “Fallout 76” has ignited quite the discussion among fans and critics with its lack of NPCs, and revamped SPECIAL & VATS systems. Will this be a Wasteland worth saving, or will players leave this to the Deathclaws?

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