Inside the Vault, Fallout 10th Anniversary edition

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This week is a special Q&A for Inside the Vault in honor of the 10th anniversary of Fallout. One question. Lots of answers. We asked the team: What did you like best about the original Fallout games? This was a fun one to put together, a terrific read. Even a couple of developers from our sister studio, Zenimax Online Studios, chimed in.

Todd Howard, Executive Producer
It’s always been the initial opening for me. It’s one of the all-time great intros. From the opening strums of the Ink Spots, Vault Boy watering his plants while being locked in a Vault, Galaxy News, “our boys” in Canada executing someone and waving at the camera, a car that does 0 to 60 in .5 seconds with “no electronics”, the final pull-back to a destroyed world, to the opening line of “War. War never changes.” Within one minute, you’re completely sold.

Emil Pagliarulo, Designer
I loved the true open-endedness of the world, and the fact that I was this lone guy in a completely unknown world, and had the power to shape my own destiny in whatever way I saw fit. In Fallout, the Vault Dweller could be anything I wanted. So in a lot of ways Fallout was the progenitor of the “sandbox” game, and its principles have been replicated in everything from Oblivion to Grand Theft Auto.

Gary Noonan, Artist
The post apocalyptic theme/setting. Morbidly, it has always been a strange fetish of mine to see the one thing that mankind was entrusted to in ruins because of greed, power, and SUVs (had to add that one).

Jess Tucker, Level Design
I definitely enjoy the stats manipulation, and figuring out how changing my stats affects Fallout in so many ways. A close second would be some of the more-out-there random non-combat encounters.

Orin Tresnjak, Programmer
I loved the level of freedom—the way they dropped you into the world with little guidance and let you discover things for yourself, with multiple ways to handle most situations. The bleakness and moral ambiguity of the setting was another big one—rather than giving you a choice between mustache-twirling evil and total virtue, they let you develop an organic, complex character. They’re probably the only games that have made me stop to think about the moral implications of the choices I was making.

Gavin Carter, Producer
The best thing about Fallout was how singular it was, and even today, how singular it remains. While most RPGs were content with riffs on the swords-and-sorcery motif, Fallout rejected any notion of standard. The setting and basis for the game are so bizarrely unique that trying to sum it up in a few sentences is nearly futile. It’s Mad Max meets Leave It to Beaver, Flash Gordon meets Barefoot Gen, The Jetsons meets global thermonuclear war. Fallout managed to maintain a near-perfect atmosphere of gritty seriousness without losing its sense of humor. Combine that with the freedom, violence, depth of plot and characters, and it’s little wonder that people are still carrying the torch for the game, even ten years later.

Ashley Cheng, Producer
Bloody Mess perk, BB gun, Dogmeat. Replaying with different characters. Amazing open ended world to explore.

Dane Olds, Artist
My favorite moment from Fallout was when I discovered the sheer destructive power of grenades. I got into a fight with some bandits and was in way over my head. I desperately checked my inventory for anything I could use to settle the score and discovered I had one frag grenade. I chucked it into the group of bandits and watched the carnage unfold. Unfortunately I was too close to the blast and just survived by the skin of my teeth. The bandits weren’t so lucky though, and I was rewarded with a nice shiny new suit of metal armor.

Todd Vaughn, VP of Development
When I found the Elvis painting, alien blaster and BB gun. Murdering everyone in Shady Sands.

Liz Beetem, Intern
I am particularly fond of Fallout’s feeling of imminent demise. Near the end of Fallout 1 I had a modified plasma rifle that took less AP and with my heroic agility, small frame, and action boy perks I could turn like five people a round into puddles of goo. I felt like a total badass, but with a bit of bad luck and a supermutant with a flamethrower I’d be watching my health drop into negative numbers long after I’d collapsed into a pile of ash. It really sold the idea of a hopelessly desperate existence to me. I also have fond memories of trying to become a porn star in New Reno in the second game. First the other girls made fun of how cliche my leather armor was. Then when they gave me a tryout they said I didn’t have enough stamina, despite my heroic strength. Initially my dreams were crushed, but one buffout later, and I was a superstar!

Jangjoon Cha, Artist
Solving the Iguana Meat mystery and black mailing the vendor was pretty sweet. Also the first encounter with a Deathclaw after hearing all the NPCs hype it up was cool too, that thing was a demon that tore through my combat armor like butter…until I got hold of a mini gun. I loved the somewhat non-linear gameplay it offered. After leaving the vault with the one quest you were suppose to take care of right away, I ended up side tracked and forgot it existed until I found myself paying the water caravan thugs loads of hard earned cash to help my fellow vault people from dying just so I can keep running around to explore…at the casino, such a vicious cycle. The initial thing that set the mood for me though was the intro with the song “maybe”… that was awesome.

Jeff Browne, Level Designer
Revenge. Trying to kill the Deathclaws in Boneyard with explosives at a low level – not having the skill to do so and blowing myself up half the time. Then coming back later all decked out with my fancy gear and finally taking them down. Yeah, revenge was sweet in Fallout.

Justin Sweeney, QA
What I liked best was how immersive the original games were. I can’t remember staying up playing another game as late as I did, or ever being as enthralled as I was, when playing through Fallout. I likely didn’t even give a second thought to fantastical creatures like two-headed cows, super mutants, giant insects or talking robots; they just all made sense in that world. And in that world, I could do things like talk like a complete jerk (although I didn’t do that very often, but the lines were funny to read and the choice was always there!), convince people to join my posse, and even have an impact on whether a town thrived or decayed. And there were things you could do in other RPGs too, like barter and loot, but it almost felt more real in Fallout because it was a post-apocalyptic wasteland and dammit, it was survival. Even the “Survivor Guide” that came with the game immersed me further; I undoubtedly read that instruction manual cover to cover many, many times.

Jonah Lobe, Artist
I enjoyed the feeling of truly never having enough and just scraping by for most of the game… plus I loved the monsters. So damn cool.

Ben Carnow, Artist
Fallout has always stood out in my mind as a real landmark game not for any single element, but because of how all of the various elements of design and art come together to form a cohesive whole. The idea of a retro-future apocalypse as seen in Fallout is so far removed from typical RPG settings that without the wonderful art direction that is reflected in everything from the characters to the environment to the interface, the world would not have been sold to the player and it would have felt cheesy and hollow. It is the kind of delicate setting that could fall apart if it were not constantly being reinforced by the personalities and actions of the characters in the world. The characters all act as if they are living in this burnt-out world, and their realistic dialogue and motivations really immerse (OH NO) you as the player in the world, and make you feel as if you inhabit a real world with real people. But mostly it is just about Myron. Myron baby, MYRON!

Richard Lambert, Producer
The ending…bar none. I had never really been the type of gamer who would replay a game once I finished it, Fallout changed that. My first time through, I spent countless hours trying to be this perfect saint, only to be kicked in the nuts at the end. I just had to play through again as an evil bastard to right the wrongs done. It still kinda pisses me off when I think about it, heh.

Shannon Bailey, Programmer
One of the most interesting aspects of Fallout for me is how you’re immediately plunged into an unfamiliar world to which you have to learn to adapt very quickly, in terms of both combat and dealing with other people. There’s a goal but — aside from game mechanics — there are no obvious rules governing your actions. You have to discover not only the world, but also yourself.

The rationale for the writer’s creed of “Show, don’t tell,” seems to be that things are more likely to stick with you if you’ve actually played a part in their discovery, if you’ve established a sort of two-way communication between yourself and the work where each informs the other. And Fallout requires and rewards this sort of intellectual investment from the get-go.

Jon Paul Duvall, Designer
I enjoyed the setting and characters, the story, the wry sense of humor. I wasn’t introduced to the series until years after it came out, but even in the later years, there weren’t many cRPGs where I felt like I could actually “role-play” my character’s choices and attitude to the same degree.

Pete Hines, VP of PR/Mktg
The Intro (and the soldiers waving at the camera), Dogmeat, Iguana on a Stick and uncovering the mystery (and profitting from it, and not being sure how I felt about that), Vault Boy, Bloody Mess trait, finally killing a Deathclaw for the first time, Harold, Nuka Cola bottlecaps as currency, The Ink Spots, “War. War Never Changes”, the manual.

Alan Nanes, Designer
I was always pleased to see unique dialog choices pop up if the player had crazy high or crazy low stats in some particular skill or attribute. How cool is that when you get surprised to find more than just the standard “where’s the widget” questions?! I also loved how the NPCs would react (sometimes brutally) to your choices… you weren’t just funneled along a single path. It could even shut down a quest or make questing impossible depending on how harsh they were. Now that’s some hardcore RPG’ing right there. It’s those little hidden gems that made Fallout a special game.

Angela Browder, Producer
The combat messages are one of my favorite parts as they always make me laugh. I mean, I am sure the bruise will look nice and maybe the scars will make good party talk.

Philip Nelson, Level Design
I liked how combat wasn’t the only option, 99% of the games that come out these days are FPSs and its nice to play something different.

Nathan Purkeypile, Artist
The thing I liked about the Fallout games is that it was not your typical boring fantasy setting. It was far more gritty and mature. Plus, I have always been a sucker for anything involving nuclear weapons.

Ryan Salvatore, Intern
The first time you wander the wasteland, not knowing if you’ll find a vast area of nothing, great new weapons, or a quick and very painful death. On my first playthrough, that was actually the order in which I found those things.

William Killeen, Intern
The original box for Fallout 1. I bought the game for that box. It was the over-the-top “wasteland survival kit” theme that made me want to buy. The spiral-bound manual inside the box was even better. Oh, and the demo available for download featured the minigun. Gotta love the minigun.

Fred Zeleny, Designer
Fallout: The great dialogue, characters, and story; Fallout 2: The tremendous freedom to explore the world; Fallout Tactics: The excuse it gave to me reminisce about Fallout 1 and 2.

Ricardo Gonzalez, Programmer
That I could dynamite the entrance to the Shady Sands Radscorpion cave instead having to kill anything. That I could hack my way into the depths of the Glow without firing a shot. That I could join the Skulz gang, double-cross them in the middle of a gun fight, and still get credit for it. In essence, Fallout is one of the best games I’ve played in allowing you to play the character you want, as you want, and still have a meaningful game experience.

In too many other RPGs, I just can’t play the lazy, self-centered intellectual that I so enjoy playing. Because I have to save my village. Or avenge my village. Or gather happy, glowing stones for my village. You don’t want to? Tough. Take this sword. Or twin daggers. Or talking hauberk. Or whatever. Fallout gives you the exact same opportunity to be the hero, go slay the bad guys, finish that main quest line, but then lets you say, “Screw this. I’m going to go get laid and play chess with my super-computer friend.”

Adam Adamowicz, Artist
Bloody Mess!

Dan Ross, QA
My favorite experience in Fallout was on my first play-through, shortly after meeting Harold for the first time. I’d asked him about the Deathclaws since I suspected they might have something to do with the missing caravans. I finally psyched myself up and ventured into that cave with nothing but a leather jacket, my shotgun, a pocket full of shells, and my faithful canine companion. I entered cautiously, and soon spotted what I took to be a Deathclaw in the shadows. More than a few vicious turns went by and I was very close to dead before a lucky critical headshot brought the beast down. My poor ol’ dog wasn’t as lucky as I was though; he would never leave that cave. I finally ventured a little further I will never forget the chill that ran up my spine when I discovered that huge mutant lying in there. “Hmm” I thought to myself, “and so the plot thickens!”

Ryan Ashford, QA
1. Dogmeat, Dogmeat, Dogmeat.
2. Must I even say it? Getting a critical hit when kicking a rat in the groin.
3. Ian shooting me in the back every chance he got (Fallout 1).
4. The ability to beat Fallout 1 without killing anyone.
5. The ability to beat Fallout 1 in 10ish minutes.
6. I loved being able to work for Gizmo in Junktown, then ratting him out to Killian Darkwater. He would question how you know so much about Gizmo’s operation without being one of his stooges. If your intelligence and charisma were high enough, you can persuade him that you were independently investigating him and found out all the information Killian needs to put him away.
7. The feeling of desolation was amazing. There were small settlements, and then long stretches of nothingness (or alien spaceships if your luck was high enough). Almost very town was full of people who feared outsiders. The player never really had a place to go back to to feel safe. This lead to people staying on edge for almost the entirety of their playtime.
8. Keeping in the flavor of desolation, the music’s ambient gritty feeling definitely helped many a player stay immersed in the game.
9. The first time I played Fallout 1 and got Power Armor and a Plasma Rifle (I didn’t know about the Turbo Plasma Rifle yet), I created a save, and killed every single person in every single town I’d ever been to. The dissolving and melting effects were excellent, especially when they were seen on NPCs who pissed you off.
10. The ending of Fallout 1 (SPOILER): Doing this grand quest over multiple months of in-game time to save your entire Vault, and then having them exile you when you finally return and save them is pure Black-Isle Studios GOLD.

Cory Dornbusch, Intern
I like on how the narrative of the game empowered me to think of a greater scenario of what was unfolding in game. Since the game was a turn based and a isometric style, this gave me the creative freedom to imagine the action in a cinematic experience with my own imagination and immersing me in the game even with the technology at that time could not convey this. The game completely changed on how I look at games right with the opening cinematic with the retro style commercial, then the image of the American soldiers in power armor executing a Canadian soldier (or at least I think he was Canadian). Then the camera pans back revealing the destroyed city with the Ink Spots “Maybe” playing in the background then hearing “War… War… never changes” (Now tell me you don’t get goose bumps when you hear that).

The Story just did not lose its effect thru out the game. Starting with the Utopian yet oppressive environment of Vault 13, to go out as there champion and the beacon of hope. To end an undeserved outcast set on your head only do to how repressive the Overseer has over the vault (Of course a nice burst with my Gatling Laser Gun in the guys back helps me get over it). I could go on and on about fallout one and the start all over with Fallout two, but I digress.

Oh, and on top of that I really dig the Pip Boy perks illustrations…“Bloody Mess” forever!

Michael McGinn, QA
It’s pretty specific, but I definitely remember the highlight of my first playthrough of Fallout: taking out that crime boss in the Hub. A lot of NPCs mentioned this dude was a hardass and all-around bad character, and I didn’t really care for the unprofessional conduct of the bouncer guarding his backroom office at the town’s casino, so I blew the doorman’s head in with a Desert Eagle and began a completely unprovoked vigilante campaign for justice.

The boss was exactly as surly as I had been told to expect, and as there was no dialogue option informing him that this was a citizen’s arrest I just exited the conversation and started shooting. Like most powerful men he surrounded himself with scary-looking bodyguards, but had neglected to select an office large enough for all of them to get around in at once. The cramped conditions meant only one or two could get up close to fight me, and most shots from the goons at the rear landed in their friend’s backs. It quickly came down to me and the poor bastard all by himself, huddled in a corner desperately flinging knives at me until I delivered the final shot with the 14mm pistol. That gun was so useless in a straight fight, but holy hell firing it was the single loudest and most gratifying noise I remember in the entire game.

Coming from a background heavy in JRPGs, where you generally figure out who the bad guys are five hours before any of your characters and spend another five watching them enact evil plots before the story lets you fight them, this was the most satisfying thing I could have imagined in a game.

Lucien Parsons, Producer (Zenimax Online Studios)
One of the things that made Fallout great was the dichotomy between the ‘50s comic art and the gruesome effects (especially the BB gun). The Pip Boy was a great interface – especially the humorous drawings for each ability and trait. Level progression was very consistent – there were no real plateaus where you felt like you were grinding. Big world, but fast travel because you didn’t actually see the wasteland unless there was an event. Esp with the car in II.

Dan Dunham, Programmer (Zenimax Online Studios)
Bloody Mess!

Reader Comments

  1. I love everything about the game, but my favorite instance of it all is planting a bomb in someone’s pocket. Along with Bloody Mess, I hadn’t left that hard all summer. I believe I was able to do something similar in Morrowind, but no one blew up, leaving the victory hollow.

  2. Wow reading this post sure brought back lots of memories :)

    Pretty amazing how some of you remember stuff so detailed, I played all the 4 Fallout games but if I were to be asked my fav memory it would simply be “The whole Mad Max atmosphere”

  3. Dogmeat forever! Although my absolute favorite moment of the game? After I had cleared the entrace to the mutant base, and on a whim took out the radio to listen. Twas creepy, quite creepy. No idea what I was about to walk into.

  4. I was introduced to Fallout by the Fallout 1 and 2 double pack, and aside from the great cover art and my weird love for everything post-apocalyptic, the thing that really sums up my memories of Fallout was a bullet point on the back of the box. It read something like this:

    “Get married, then pimp your spouse out for chump change!”

    Best. Bullet point. Ever. I’ve never played a game since that made every tiny interaction so rich with interest, intrigue and dodgy possibilities!

  5. @ Jangjoon Cha, Pete Hines

    Oops!! Gotcha!!
    So you were the guys who pinched me.
    Now I know, and leave a note in my Will.
    My descendant is gonna find you in Fallout 3 and take revenge.
    I can rest in peace now.
    Revenge sweet revenge!!!

  6. the thing i love about fallout is that there are no one way to do any thing and the way Gizmo’s guts blown all over his desk. FALLOUT RULES LONG LIVE MAX STONE

  7. I’ve been too busy to write a response that would really do Fallout justice. I have an image on my PC here at work that I think best personifies Fallout for me. I’ll upload it somewhere later, but the image is the Vault Dweller after being exiled from Vault 13. The caption is “Rejection – Not all help is appreciated.”

    That’s my response, cut short.

  8. I have that same image on my wall. Perfectly sums up my feelings about the game. And certainly makes you want to start over and murder the whole map.

  9. “The characters all act as if they are living in this burnt-out world, and their realistic dialogue and motivations really immerse (OH NO) you as the player in the world, and make you feel as if you inhabit a real world with real people.”

    This made me laugh. IMMERSHUN! I’m sure fallout 3 will be great. :)

  10. - The guy on the door of the Brotherhood, who sends you off on some joke initiate quest, and when you get back he’s all, “What? You actually did it? Uhh… really?”

    – The creepy, creepy Children of the Cathedral… and slaughtering them all!

  11. Well… Its really sad to see that the son of chosen one don’t will continue the story :(

    I think the story need to be with the Vault Dweller family…

    Fallout series is perfect… I think it just need to be 3D ;p

  12. So many memories, so many hours of playing the games.

    My personal favorites would probably have to be the various references that were put into the game, most of which I was able to catch. I’m hoping this makes its way into F3 as well.

    But just about every aspect of Fallout 1 & 2 is classic and I’m trying to be optimistic about the next chapter of the apocalypse.

  13. Ya, I’m one of the programmers that worked on Fallout 1.
    No not part of this team, as a matter of fact not working on games much anymore (at least for now).

    FYI, I came by the Fallout booth at the E3 show last year, and couldn’t get in despite that I had a original Fallout dev t-shirt (but didn’t try that hard)..

    On Fallout I mostly worked on UI’s, like the World Map, Character Editor, Pipboy, and the thing I’m most proud of was was fixing the random encounters and specials scripts.
    On the list few weeks before it went “silver” I worked from 12 to 12 on them, 26 hours straight stint once.

    In the end though Interplay was dying. The ship was sinking and the worst side came out of a lot of very egotistical people (“rats”, fleeing the ship).

    One who actually had very little involvement with Fallout but claims a lot more. I won’t mention any names, lets say it’s the former game tester with honor thiner then obsidian.

    The other one with constant fruitful rants about ideal programming. We saw that exemplary programming in that game with swords, the other with vampires. It will take more then three horses to drag that company back from the abyss..

    Anyhow others like Gary P. went on to great success working on World of Warcraft, etc.

    Despite the slander and BS, I have great memories working on Fallout, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    -Kevin