One of the bestselling games of the last year was the newest creation of a game series that goes back to 1988. The scenario is settled in a post-apocalyptic world in which the deadly environment tries without stopping to kill the player. This scenario is mixed with evil antagonists and many small stories not just embedded in a larger main story, but in a unique and creative world. Although Fallout 4 was ready to become one of the best games so far, many fans of the first hours were rather disappointed than amazed. Too thin seemed the story, too many bugs and technical problems were disturbing the joy of the player, too many repeating quests, a new character design which gives the player the possibility to learn everything and the concentration on mass shooting was the origin of criticism. In a nutshell was the main critic point the breach to the former parts. Although Wasteland was never an official part of the Fallout series it was a milestone for this type of games. It was developed for the Apple II, the Commodore 64 and the DOS. For the first time a development team was brave enough for a post-apocalyptic video game. Apart from this special scenario the game offered several solution ways. Talking could solve a situation as successful as shooting or could make the whole situation even worse. The player had to deal constantly with decisions. The first Fallout game followed only 1997 this example. One year later Fallout 2 was already published and the success was that great, that the development team started its work on the next part, which was referred to as the ‘Van Buren-Project’. Unfortunately the project was cancelled as the publisher Interplay, had financial problems and cancelled the whole project. A year later Bethesda was able to buy the rights for Fallout. Instead of taking the almost fully developed game the new publisher focused on other ideas and changed not just the idea, but even the technical details. The 2D graphics were changed against a 3D graphic and the round based fights were taken out. Fallout 3 offered a modernized gameplay and was able to lead to successes for the development team and the publisher. Only two years later Fallout: New Vegas joined the series and 2015 finally was Fallout 4 released.
But what is the outstanding detail about this series? Why was it able to build such a fan-base leading back to 1997 if not even till 1988? Fallout created an own universe with an own story. While the technology, especially the nuclear-technology, has improved, the politics, the (political) culture and the society have remained in the 1950s. The soundtrack consists of 40s and 50s music and the in-game radio plays constantly hits performed by The Ink Spots, Nat King Cole, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra and other famous artist of the pre-and post-war period. But not just the music gives the player the feeling of the 50s. Posters, books, clothes, opinions about history or politics and not existent worries about the pollution of the environment are always present in the world of Fallout. Popular are the posters which suggest hiding under a table in case of a nuclear war or also many anti-communist posters. Without the experience of the cuba-crisis or a civil-society which stands in for careful science, environment protection and for peace. Although it mostly gives insight in the American society it’s hard to imagine that the societies of the rest behave differently. But to understand the behaviour of the characters and the structure of the world it is crucial to have a look at the history of this parallel universe.
“War never changes”
As mentioned before the Fallout universe was till the Second World War the same like ours, but instead of learning of the dangers of the nuclear technology it even glorified this dangerous technology. Instead of a gasoline engine, the cars have a small nuclear reactor and environment friendly production of energy is basically not existent (unless it can be used as a weapon). Even smaller car accidents led therefore to catastrophes, harming more people than the actual crash.
So in the year 2077 disastrous nuclear war between China and the U.S.A. which lasted two hours killed the majority of people, destroyed the infrastructure, the society and also all governments. While nothing is known who started the bombs or how destroyed the other parts of the world are, it is well known that the shape of the U.S.A. changed. The rocket and the bombs destroyed rivers, lakes and constructed mountain chains that didn’t exist before. The following radioactive rain killed the last surviving plants and animals. Nevertheless humanity managed to survive in so-called Vaults, which are used as atomic bunkers. The game starts two hundred years after the nuclear war and in Fallout 1 the player is challenged to keep his vault and so his community alive by finding as fast as possible a water chip and here exactly starts the particular game elements. While the player has now exactly 150 days to find it, he could idle around and explore several towns, help the inhabitants of the destroyed wasteland or also exploit them. According to the players favourite solution ways, characteristic speciality and behaviour the outcome for the inhabitants and for the vault itself was changed. Sometimes led the peaceful solutions to cruel outcome and sometimes there were no possibility to achieve the best outcome for everyone.
Nuclear rain everywhere
Many persons that were met in the Fallout 1, took also part in Fallout 2. But Fallout 3 showed the events at the East Coast around Washington D.C. Fallout: New Vegas was connected again to the first parts of the series, as the New California Republic, founded with the help of the player in Fallout 1 and 2, has evolved and marched to the West until it arrived at the borders of former Las Vegas. Fallout 4 again changed the location to the East Coast around Boston
But it’s not just the main story and the universe that makes Fallout that special. The world is driven by its charm of the 50s, its unique black satirical humour, the absolute lack of a sense of protection of environment and the references to pop-culture.
Examples for these references are offered by Nuka Cola, a soft drink. A special version Nuka Cola Quantum even goes together with night vision and radioactivity and of course there are characters which are searching exactly for this drink to satisfy their own addiction. References are made to the Beatles, Planet of the Apes (worship of an atomic bomb), Mad Max (Thunderdome, dogmeat), Star Trek, Shining (tricycle with blood stains in a hotel), Indiana Jones (refrigerator with a skeleton and a fedora), Forrest Gump (Quest: Run Goodspring, run) and many more. A collection for Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 can be found here. To find and to understand all these references and Easter eggs seems to be impossible, but exploration is one of the central issues. Stories and sometimes hidden quests can be found in every house, at every spot and next to every skeleton. An unmarked quest can be found in the Republic of Dave in Fallout 3. The republic of Dave is a smaller farm settlement that can be easily ignored as just four adult inhabitants live there. This special kind of republic was known before as Kingdom of Larry, the Republic of Stevie-Ray, Billsylvania, the New Republic of Stevie-Ray, the Kingdom of Tom and eventually the Republic of Dave. Several coup d´etats belong to its history. As you might realise a new governor changed not just always the name, but even the political system. When the player arrives in the republic president Dave will tell that the player needs to register as a refugee, which will cost Nuka-caps. Apart from living houses and the city hall exists also a school, which teaches the kids, that the best president and the best human is Dave. As the Republic of Dave is organised democratically, elections are held. To keep his power the only candidate in the election can be Dave.
Nevertheless the president is trying to bribe the player, so he can convince the other inhabitants of the Republic to vote for Dave. Instead of supporting Dave the player can try to support the candidature of other inhabitants, which will normally end in a tie, as every candidate will vote for himself. Of course the player can manipulate the election, which will lead to the Republic of Rosie or the Republic of Bob. There is no need to tell, which official election laws will be implemented in this new Republic. The developers of Fallout 3 easily and funny criticise defect democracies and its repeating structures, just like interventionism by foreign powers represented as the player from outside
Another feature is the unique and creative character building system. It depends on seven components which are defined as S.P.E.C.I.A.L.: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. All these variables define how the player can interact with the world and people, and how they react to the player. While figures with a high Charisma have better chances to convince other humans, players with a high perception see weaknesses or dangerous situations better. Even the Intelligence of a player can influence a game dramatically. High intelligent character will have different possibilities than character with an average intelligence. Especially character with a very low intelligence will feel the difference. ´Dumb´ characters won’t be able to discuss complicated issues, which lets the player sometimes wonder what to do and characters with almost non-existent intelligence will just be able to speak gibberish or half-word sentences, which offers again totally different possibilities (or challenges). A famous quote for this case is: “Glug glug glug glug glug glug!” On the other hand are agility, strength and endurance critical when it comes to physical force or carrying important goods. And as it is almost always in life: The best abilities won’t be enough if luck is not on your side, which ends sometimes in cruel, sometimes in funny situations. The options and possibilities offered by these details are present through the whole game, as theft, smuggling explosives in pockets, convincing through actions, intelligence, charisma or just plain threatening (or simple killing) can lead to success.
Already the conversations in Fallout 1 offered several solutions.
Apart from exploration, several solution paths, the unique universe and the creative character building, another part is typical for the Fallout series: the criticism of OUR world. Although Fallout plays in the future and in the past it focusses on the real world. It shows what a world without civil society, without peace or environment movement would look like. A society is created that has no empathy for the life and no sense for the protection of the nature. Instead a capitalistic, almost fascist-like society is drawn as the pre-war society, for which technological improvement and financial gains seem more important than peace and cultural progress. Fallout shows us, what our society should never become – a selfish, ignorant, nationalist, militarily, ultra-capitalist community. A community – which is worshipping just technological progress without realising, that everything has to be limited and progress without culture, empathy and honouring the wonder of life – has no peaceful and prosperous future.
Sources of Pictures: