Chapter 6
Chapter Select

Pause Screen: World on Fire - The Oral History of Fallout and Fallout 2

Baldur's Gate kicked off the Infinity Engine's slate of classic RPGs, but the culture of Interplay enabled a group of tabletop-gaming enthusiasts to create a similar experience two years earlier.

8

Like journals sprinkled throughout RPGs, Pause Screens go into more detail on the people, companies, and cultures that contributed to the success of the Pillars of Eternity franchise and the Infinity Engine line of roleplaying games.

War. War never changes. Neither do the fundamentals of game development.

In March 2015, Obsidian released Pillars of Eternity as a love letter to the lineage of Infinity Engine roleplaying games of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Technically, Fallout and its sequel do not belong in that lineage, but the post-apocalyptic franchise’s influence on Baldur’s Gate and its ilk is inarguable. Many developers who worked on Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, and Pillars of Eternity had worked on Fallout and Fallout 2 first, bringing what they learned to bear on those later projects.

That makes the Fallout games distant relations of the Infinity Engine RPGs, and worthy of closer examination. What follows is an oral history straight from the mouths of several of the pioneers who entered a veritable wasteland of computer RPG (CRPG) development and made that fallow ground fertile once again.  

By Gamers, For Gamers

Brian Fargo founded Interplay Productions on the foundation of a simple yet powerful creed: That the people he hired should be as passionate about making games as they were about playing them.

Background, experience, accolades—none of those mattered in Interplay’s early, most humble days. Fargo created a workplace that blurred the line between office and home. Anyone who wasn’t writing code or pushing pixels could be found holed up in an office or in an open area playing a board game. Interplay’s culture was a siren’s song answered by developers who, like Fargo, were eager to make their mark.

BRIAN FARGO [founder of Interplay Productions]

           When I was in junior high school, they had a mainframe computer. People talk about the cloud now, but everything was in "the cloud" back then. You just had a dumb terminal talking to a mainframe. I was fascinated by computers even though there wasn't much in terms of games. The coin-op business had just gotten to the point where games like Pong and Space Invaders were emerging, and it was those games that first got me interested.

           Then my parents got me an Apple II in high school, and that really opened my eyes to how you can make games, how I could go beyond just playing them. I played a lot of the older titles. I remember there were some old strategy titles where you would make a move and the computer would take two to three hours to process its turn. You'd go crazy when a game crashed halfway through because that meant you just lost three days of playing.

           So I really discovered games through those means. I always had a background in reading a lot of fiction: comics, Heavy Metal magazine. Playing Dungeons & Dragons was a big part of high school for me. But the thing that I think led me to create games, which I think most people would give the same answer to, was, I looked at what was out there and thought, You know, I could do better. That's what sent me down my course.

CHRIS TAYLOR [designer at Interplay, lead designer on Fallout]

            I met some people working at Egghead Software who played Dungeons & Dragons. I was looking for a roleplaying game, so I hooked up with them to play. One of the players worked for Interplay. After a few months, he told me they had a job opening, so I went down and applied.

BRIAN FARGO

            One of my high school buddies was Michael Cranford. His parents wouldn't get him a computer, so he used to borrow mine. We made this little adventure game. I'd give him the computer over the weekend, he'd write code for a section, then he'd give it back and I'd try to finish his section and do my part, then he'd go through mine. We'd go back and forth. We did this all summer. We made this little game called the Labyrinth of Martagon. We actually put it in some baggies and probably sold five copies. That would be a very obscure, technically speaking, first game. But one that really got into distribution would be The Demon's Forge.

           I was a big fan of adventure games. I loved all the [adventure games developed by] Scott Adams, all the Sierra adventures. I also liked Ultima and Wizardry, but from a coding perspective I wasn't strong enough to do that stuff, but I thought I could do an adventure game. It was a category I liked, and I liked medieval settings. As far as attracting attention, I had a budget of $5,000 for everything. My one ad in Soft Talk [magazine] cost me about 2,500 bucks, so 50 percent of my money went into a single ad.

           One of the things I did was I would call retailers on a different phone and say, "Hey, I'm trying to find this game called Demon's Forge. Do you guys have a copy?" They said, "No," and I said, "Oh, I just saw it in Soft Talk. It looks good. They said, "We'll look into it." A few minutes later my other line would ring and the retailer would place an order. That was my guerrilla marketing. I was selling to individual chains of stores. There were two distributors at the time that would help you get into the mom-and-pop places. It was a store-by-store, shelf-by-shelf fight.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I interviewed well, I guess—well enough—and I beat out one other guy because I had a pickup truck, and they needed someone to take packages and stuff like that. So, I got the job because of my pickup truck and my love for D&D. I started in customer service and technical support.

A young Brian Fargo.
A young Brian Fargo.

BRIAN FARGO

            There were some Stanford graduates who wanted to get into the video game industry, and they bought my company [Saber Software]. They paid off my debt and I made a few bucks, nothing much to brag about. They made me the vice president and I started doing work for them. It became one of those things where there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and I was doing all the work. I was with them for about a year when I quit and started Interplay in order to do things my way. I'd gotten used to running development, so that seemed like the next natural step.

           With Interplay, I wanted to take [development] beyond one- or two-man teams. That sounds like an obvious idea now, but to hire an artist to do the art, a musician to do the music, a writer to do the writing, all opposed as just the one man show doing everything, was novel. Even with Demon's Forge, I had my buddy Michael do all the art, but I had to trace it all in and put it in the computer, and that lost a certain something. And because I didn't know a musician or sound guy, it had no music or sound. I did the writing, but I don't think that's my strong point. So really, [Interplay was] set up to say, "Let's take a team approach and bring in specialists."

FEARGUS URQUHART [producer at Interplay Productions, co-founder of Obsidian Entertainment]

            Eric DeMilt and I went to high school together. We met when we were freshmen. It turned out Eric was a computer gamer. He had a Commodore 64, like I did, and he would play roleplaying games and stuff like that, but he wasn't as much of what we'd call the hot RPG scene of Tustin High in 1984. I mean, you know... girls. Yes.

ERIC DeMILT [producer at Interplay Productions and Obsidian Entertainment]

            Feargus and I met in 1984, so I've known him for thirty-four years. I've known one of our testers here [at Obsidian] since the first grade, and my first memory of him involves Doug [QA tester at Obsidian] and a guy in a Darth Vader silverware. Anyway.

           Feargus and I would write and read comic books, play games together. I think the first PC game I ever got super hooked on was a game called Wasteland which, as it turned out, was developed by Interplay Productions. Fast forward a few years, and Feargus was at University of California, Riverside, I think, and was coming back on holidays and weekends. We were still friends, and he'd gotten a job through another high school friend of ours at Interplay Productions as a tester.

            I'm like, "Seriously? They'll pay you to test games?" It was super-nerdy stuff. They had the Lord of the Rings license. They were doing Battle Chess [games]. They had the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary license at the time, so it was nerd heaven for me. I said, "Dude, get me a job." That was in '92 or so.

Feargus Urquhart.

FEARGUS URQUHART

           I met a lot of people who I still know to this day and hang out with: Chris Taylor, who ended up being lead designer on Fallout; Chris Benson, who runs our IT here at Obsidian. I got a job at Interplay through Chris Taylor as a tester. Chris, Eric, and my other friend, Steve, were like, "We want to be testers." They needed testers, so I said, "Hey, these two guys are looking for jobs." They said they needed more people, so they got hired. I think that was in '92, which was the second year I was a tester.

BRIAN FARGO

            I had a lot of diverse friends. I was big into track and field, I played football, so I had those friends, then I had friends from the chess club, the programming club, and a Dungeons & Dragons club. Michael [Cranford] was from that side. I always thought he was a pretty bright guy and one of the better dungeon masters. We played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. We always tried to focus on setting up dungeons that would test people's character as opposed to just making them fight bigger and [tougher] monsters. We'd do things like separate the party and have one half just getting slaughtered by a bunch of vampires and see who would jump in to help them. But it wasn't really happening. It was all an illusion, but we'd test them.

            I always got a kick out of the more mental side of things, and Michael was a pretty decent artist, a pretty good writer. He was my Dungeons & Dragons buddy, but then he went off to Berkeley, and I started [Interplay]. He did a product for Human Engineering Software, but then I said, "Hey, let's do a Dungeons & Dragons-style title together. Wouldn't that be great?" That's really how the game came about. He moved back down to Southern California, and I think we actually started when he was still up north. But then we worked on Bard's Tale together, kind of bringing back the Dungeons & Dragons experiences we both enjoyed in high school.

ERIC DeMILT

            I started part-time as a tester, testing Game Boy games and PC games. The industry was in its infancy. The company that would go on to become Blizzard was a sub-contractor of Interplay’s [called Silicon & Synapse]. I would come in, and there'd be a build of some random game on a PC with a sheet of paper telling me what to do. I'd break the game and leave a sheet of paper with notes for my boss, who I'd see once or twice a week.

           It was the wild west.

Scott Everts. (Image courtesy of Obsidian.)
Scott Everts. (Image courtesy of Obsidian.)

SCOTT EVERTS [technical designer at Interplay Productions and Obsidian Entertainment]

            I originally wanted to get into the TV-and-movie-effects field. I went to Cal State Fullerton and got a degree in radio, TV, and film, with a focus on film. I did a little bit of Hollywood stuff. I was a production intern on MacGyver during Season 6, and [almost] got a job as a production assistant on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 4. I was the third choice out of two. That was in 1991. I had a bunch of friends who worked at Interplay Productions. I worked at a software store and was [almost ready to] graduate. I said, "I don't want to work in software. I want to find something else."

           A friend of mine said, "We're doing a Star Trek computer game. Do you want to come and play-test it?" I said, "Okay!" I went over, and I knew about half a dozen people who worked at Interplay, and there were only forty or so people there. I used to play D&D with them and video games with them; we had our little group. I went over there as a QA guy and worked on Star Trek: 25th Anniversary. CD-ROM was becoming a thing, so we did a CD-ROM version, and they needed a designer to flesh out some scenarios.

ROB NESLER [art director, Interplay Productions and Obsidian Entertainment]

            When I was fourteen or fifteen, for some reason I had a Popular Science magazine with an article about home computers. I must have read that article a dozen times, dreaming about computers. They had little screenshots of games, and that started me on my way. From then on, I thought, I want to be able to draw on a computer.

           I got a TRS-80 model three a year or so later, which had pixels the size of corn kernels. I immediately tried to figure out how to program on it with the goal of drawing lines and circles, making houses, spaceships, dragons.

TIM CAIN [lead programmer on Fallout, co-game director at Obsidian Entertainment]

            I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was fourteen. My mom actually got me into it. She worked at an office in D.C. with a bunch of Navy admirals and stuff. A few of the "boys" played Dungeons & Dragons, so we went over to their house one weekend and played it, and I really got into it. She had five kids; I was the youngest. When we turned sixteen, she would give us a few hundred dollars and say, "You can buy whatever you want." I bought an Atari 800 and taught myself how to code. I got a job at a game company that was making a bridge game for Electronic Arts when I was sixteen. That's how I got into games, but I really wanted to make RPGs.

           Some of my friends had an Apple II. I thought it was really amazing. The Atari 400 and 800 had way better graphics. They were way better than the Apple II, and they were also way better than PCs at the time. Part of the reason I got my job at that game company was because I knew all the graphics modes, especially all of these undocumented, special graphics modes called the Plus Threes: if you added +3 to a graphics mode, it would [display] without a text window at the bottom. This company was making games for a cable company, and they needed an art tool written. Their resolution was too high for a PC at the time, but an Atari 800 could just do it. None of their programmers knew it.

BRIAN FARGO

           I found the original design document for Bard's Tale, and it wasn't even called Bard's Tale. It was called Shadow Snare. The direction wasn't different, but maybe the bard ended up getting tuned up a bit. One of the people there who has gone on to great success, Bing Gordon, was our marketing guy on that. He very much jumped on the bard [character] aspect of it.

           At the time, the gold standard was Wizardry for that type of game. There was Ultima, but that was a different experience, a top-down view, and not really as party based. Sir-Tech was kind of saying, "Who needs color? Who needs music? Who needs sound effects?" But my attitude was, "We want to find a way to use all those things. What better than to have a main character who uses music as part of who he is?"5

LEONARD BOYARSKY [art director on Fallout, co-game director at Obsidian Entertainment]

            I think when you're five years old, everyone loves to draw. Most people give it up. I never did.

SCOTT EVERTS

         I moved from QA to design and helped on the CD-ROM version. It had a short scenario at the end that we expanded. I did some production work [after that]. I worked on Star Trek: Academy, and several [products] that never got finished. We were going to do Star Trek: Battle Chess, just Battle Chess with a Star Trek theme. That one got cancelled because it was really expensive; the artwork was costing a lot of money.

        We were also going to do a Stark Trek chess game with a 3D chess board, but we didn't do it because no one could figure out how to play it. There were no rules for it. It was just a visual thing for TV shows. Some fans made rules, and we found out it was impossible to play. I know there are real rules now, but at the time we decided [to table it].

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I had this crazy idea that I was going to be an artist, and I never wavered from that. I pursued that all through school, and then I was having trouble getting work as a freelance illustrator at the time. That's how I found my way into the videogame industry. I was just looking for work until my illustration career took off. It didn't quite work out.

           A bunch of people I went to school with were a semester ahead of me, and they were all hired by Buena Vista Software, which was a new division that Disney was starting to try and do something a little different. I was having trouble getting work, I called one of my friends who had that job and said, "Are there any jobs there?" Basically, they were freelance, but they were freelance directly for [Disney]. But there was this other project they were doing through Quicksilver Software that they hired me to work on, because I went up and I showed the art director my portfolio. I had only ever worked on Macs before, except for a basic class I'd taken in high school. So, I had no idea how to do anything on PC at that point.

           That project lasted about two and a half months, I think, before it got cancelled.

From left to right: Jason Anderson, Tim Cain, and Leonard Boyarsky.

TIM CAIN

            One of the programmers they'd hired was a friend of mine who was three years older and had already graduated high school. He gave them my name. I just came in for an afternoon, and this was before I had a driver's license. I think my mother had to drive me out there. In a two-hour session I coded up a basic framework for the art tool they needed. You used a joystick that you plugged into the front of the Atari 800. They had an artist come in, and he said, "Yeah, I can use this, but there are a whole bunch of other features I need." I said, "Well, I can't do that right now." They asked me if I could start working after school. I did that two or three days a week. I'd do that two or three days a week, and then I'd drive there. I'd drive along the Beltway, which was crazy. My junior and senior year, two or three days a week, I'd drive out there after school.

           The bridge game paid for college. I was in Virginia, and I came out here to California to go to graduate school. A few years into that, I didn't like it. I sent my resume out, and Interplay was literally three or four miles away. They were making the Bard's Tale Construction Set. I found out later that [the job was between] me and someone else, and I got the job because I had worked on a game before, and because I knew the Dungeons & Dragons rules. The questions came down to, they asked us both what THAC0 was, and the other programmer didn't know.

ROB NESLER

            Some years later, I graduated high school and went into college as a graphic design major, thinking I would be able to do some illustrations on computers there. The school did not have any, so I found a program outside of the school to learn how to make art on a computer. They had some Apple Macintosh IIs, which had 19-inch displays and 256 colors. That's when I started to make art. It was graphic design, but the computer did have a 3D program that I got to play with. I built some spaceships in 3D.

           From there I got a job working for an ad agency but didn't really enjoy doing logos and ads for perfumes, lady's shoes, and stuff like that, so I got a job working for CompUSA. I worked in the software department selling software. On the backs of game [boxes] in those days, the late '80s, all the publishers put their addresses on the backs of boxes. The publishers were often the developers, and I just started sending artwork to whoever would open up the envelope.

           Eventually somebody at Interplay got my work. It was color bitmaps of space scenes, of robot tanks fighting, of warriors riding winged beasts, that kind of stuff. I think I had a vampire in there as well. That was all it took back then.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           Buena Vista had another project on the line, which was called Unnatural Selection. We ended up cutting out claymation dinosaurs, or stop-motion, clay dinosaurs out of backgrounds. It was a really cool little project. I ended up working with one other guy on it. I'd just go to this guy's house in L.A., and we'd work in a little studio he had there.

            After that was done, the thing I missed was that when I was working for Quicksilver, most of the stuff they did was for Interplay, but for some reason they had this other project that I got put on that they were doing for Buena Vista. So, through them, I had a couple of interactions with the art director at Interplay. I called him up when I couldn't find work after Unnatural Selection.

            When I got hired at Interplay, I was working under the direction of Rob Nesler, who's the art director at Obsidian now. I did a month's work of work in a week, I think, so he started giving me different things to do. Eventually, I worked my way up from being a grunt artist to being a lead artist on Stonekeep. That morphed into being the art director on Fallout.

Work. Play. At Interplay, it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Developers channeled their passion for gaming into their creations, and conducted that excitement back into their favorite hobby.

ROB NESLER

            It was a little bit like the wild west, though not as bad as what you've heard about Atari. It was a little more conservative than that, but we still had our fun.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I came in right at an expansion time where they staffed up heavily and took on a bunch more projects. I was a kid still making my way through college. I'd worked a couple of hourly job, so for me, this was the coolest thing in the world.

           We did things together. We didn't go home. We stayed until 2:00 a.m. in the morning playing games, talking games. It all revolved around games. It was a very exciting time.

TIM CAIN

            When I started, I was employee forty-two. It was a very small company. They had that logo: "By Gamers, For Gamers." It was really true. Everybody there played video games. Fargo played games. People would go home at night to play games, or sometimes you'd just say there. You'd work all day, and then you'd go to the conference room to see if anybody had a board game out.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I was just happy to be working as an artist. I had played Zork and Wizardry. I thought those games were really fantastic because you had so much imagination involved. You would buy into the games. You could easily look at Wizardry, for example, and say, "These are just hallways drawn with simple lines. What is this? This is nothing," you know? But if you bought into it and imagined you were playing D&D, it was this really fun thing.

CHRIS TAYLOR

           There were a lot of people at the office who were into Bomberman, so we'd have Bomberman nights. We'd have Atari Lynx nights.

TIM CAIN

            The Atari Lynx came out, if you remember the little handheld Atari console. It was like a Switch back in '92. So many people there bought Lynxes that we would have waiting lists for people. We'd say, "We're going to start this eight-player game, then after an hour these other people can join in." It was just wonderful. Everybody there was a gamer, so it was a great place to work.

CHRIS TAYLOR

           We played a lot of multiplayer games, and Tim [Cain] was definitely part of that crowd, and people like Scott Everts, all these people who ended up working on Fallout. We played games together and were all friends with each other, so it was natural for us to get together and talk.

TIM DONLEY [artist, Interplay Productions and Black Isle Studios]

            It was a very loud, fun place. People wandered in at all times of the day. By five or six o'clock, someone would say, “We're going to play Descent 2. Everybody get on the LAN.” We'd all log in and start up a bunch of games and play for hours.

            We had one giant room where we could all gather. It was called the rec room. I was considered quite loud. I would laugh loudly and make all this noise. Every day at six o'clock we'd play XMEN Vs. Street Fighter, or some of us would play Quake. I would scream so loud that people from the other side of the building would walk in and go, “Is that Tim? He's so freaking loud I can hear him through the walls.”

CHRIS PARKER [producer, Interplay Productions and Black Isle Studios; co-founder, Obsidian Entertainment]

           It was a really fun environment. You're talking about a company where the average age was probably around twenty-seven or something like that; it was really, really young. People like Brian Fargo were... I think he was forty, and he seemed ancient to me.

           I say that and I'm going to be forty-six in a couple of days.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           It was really relaxed. It was a very small, though I didn't think of it as very small at the time, but looking back on it, it was. I was employee number eight-eight or something like that. I was just amazed that people were paying us to come in there and do this stuff. The job I had was a little bit of a grind because it was just cutting stuff out of backgrounds, but I was really happy to have a job.

           Once I got to start doing real artwork, it was extremely thrilling. But the early Interplay had this really creative, non-corporate, just excitement about making games to it.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            One time when I was working on the Lord of the Rings game for Super Nintendo, they needed someone to play the orc. I dressed in underwear and ran around with a trashcan lid as a shield, and a toy sword. They took photographs of me walking and running up and down the corridor, swinging my sword.

           I got the negatives, and I destroyed them, because there was no way. There might have been some tequila involved. Perhaps. I can't quite remember the fact. No, those photographs will never see the light of day.

TIM DONLEY

           For that period, the '90s of Interplay, it was such a fun experience. Interplay felt like it was a family: A bunch of people who knew and liked each other. Whether I was under Brian Fargo, or Feargus, or whoever the management was, they just expected and encouraged a lot of game playing.

Designing games made by gamers was one of Brian Fargo’s founding pillars. Another was to diversify . Historically, programmers had done it all: written code, pushed pixels, programmed in music notes, produced and shipped product. Fargo aimed to create and then fill more specialized roles to facilitate better development.

SCOTT EVERTS

            Interplay had programmers, designers, and artists, but "designer" was an all-encompassing thing. Sometimes we would do scripting, and there weren't scripters. When I was working on Star Trek for Super Nintendo, we were doing scripting. We had a scripting language, and we were writing code in the scripting language to make the missions work. Sometimes we straddled programming a bit, although we did eventually hire scripters.

FEARGUS URQUHART

           I never actually asked the people who promoted us out of testing why they did [made us producers]. I think that we were more organized, and had more of an ability to communicate. We were pretty good at communication, and we were pretty organized, and a lot of the reason why we went out of QA and became producers was because people vouched for us and said, "They're good guys."

CHRIS PARKER

            I was twenty-four, twenty-five, and I've been made an associate producer. I've been given responsibility over titles that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I barely know what I'm doing, yet I'm telling developers what they should be doing.

           That was actually quite common. If you were a warm body and knew how to use a computer, you could get a job in the videogame industry doing something.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            There's a lot of different types of designers, and we've become a lot more formal about it. At the time at Interplay, a designer was someone who wasn't a programmer or an artist, but who helped make the game. I wrote dialogue, I laid out maps on paper that artists would then convert into actual levels. I designed characters and systems.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            It was this transition period where you had to know something about art. You could do all this stuff with it that you couldn't do before, and I felt like I had a lot of knowledge and experience, even just from stuff I'd learned at school, that I could bring to it, but I was relegated to this grunt position of cutting things out of backgrounds. I worked really hard at it, and part of my incentive was, "If I get through cutting all these characters out, I'm getting something else to do."

            Once I'd done all the characters, at least as many as I knew of at the time, they came back to me and they said, "Um, we made a mistake. We did these wrong. We have to redo all of them." I said, "I did everything I was supposed to do." They said, "Yeah, it was our fault, completely, 100 percent, but you have to redo them." That just frustrated me to no end. I went home after work and I started a new portfolio. I was like, "I have to get out of here. I can't do this anymore." I made a bunch of paintings and started shopping them around, and I was unsuccessful, luckily.

SCOTT EVERTS

            On Star Trek: 25th Anniversary, I think I was credited as an assistant or junior designer because we were writing dialogue in QA. A lot of the scripts were written by out-of-house people, and they didn't encompass all situations. Since I was incredibly familiar with Star Trek... One of the reasons I got hired was because I had the entire original series on Laserdisc. I brought my set in so people could watch it. We'd sit around and watch Star Trek episodes, and I got pretty good at writing dialogue for [the game] because I was such a Star Trek geek. I knew the material and characters so well.

            One of the things I did on Star Trek: Judgment Rites was I became the liaison to Paramount Pictures, which was frustrating because I felt like I knew more about Star Trek than they did. Sometimes we'd get into... Well, I wouldn't get into arguments because you couldn't really argue with whatever they said. I would disagree with some of their conclusions, things they wanted to change.

Eric DeMilt. (Image courtesy of Obsidian.)
Eric DeMilt. (Image courtesy of Obsidian.)

ROB NESLER

            My first game that I got to work on the Bard's Tale Construction Set. I created artwork for all the dungeons and, ultimately, all the monster-encounter portraits as well. On RPM Racing, I did the tile sets, and Jay Patel, one of the programmers, and I came up with a mechanism for capturing cars so that we could create in-game models. We'd put models of cars into this little armature and take some pictures with a video camera.

           David Mosher was an artist involved in welding the armature together. We captured footage of a whole bunch of cars, and a whole bunch of other artists and I hand-edited them until they looked okay.

           One of the guys said, "You know, I could have just drawn all these." He might have been exaggerating. We were always optimistic about how easy it would be for us to get something done once we'd done it.

ERIC DeMILT

            One of the producers came to me one day and said, "Hey, I need an assistant. You wanna do this job?" I said, "All right, I'm in. That's super cool." That involved rotoscoping [models] for games like Clay Fighter. We were doing super-early, super-ghetto chroma key for Stonekeep: taking live actors and depositing them into scenes.

           We were working out how to do all that. It was super home brew.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            How do you submit a Super Nintendo game? You learn. Basically, "Here's a big packet, here's a checklist. Go figure it out." I think what it was, was I liked everything about making games. If there was anything I could have become, it would have been a programmer, but I was just interested in games as a whole. I liked having the ability to do whatever, and back then as a producer, you could do whatever.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            One of the first big games I worked on was Stonekeep, and we needed to know how the game needed to react when a player swung the sword. One of my jobs was deciding, "This is how much damage a sword does, and here's a bunch of swords, and here's all the stats and skills that go into sword swings." I also did data entry. I did the timing for certain animations and sound effects.

SCOTT EVERTS

            Eventually my title became "technical designer." That meant I was an in-between for art and design. I would do some of the basic art. One thing I did on Fallout and Fallout 2, more so, was little pieces of art for junctions. Like, "We need this corner." I'd go into Photoshop, and everything was sprites, so I'd take two pieces, join them together, clean them up, and make a new [corner] piece. They might say, "We need a different corner here," or "We need this piece flipped." I would do light artwork.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I did a lot of inventory art, just stuff here and there. Then we had these 3D machines, SGI machines, that were running this [software] called PowerAnimator, which was the precursor to Maya. Interplay, in its infinite wisdom, had spent around $30,000 per machine. Or maybe it was $30,000 for the software.

           They spent all this money on machines and software, and then they realized that the only people who knew how to use those machines and that software worked in the film industry, and they were making a lot more than artists in the games industry were making at that time. We had these machines sitting in this room, that no one was using. I was so frustrated that I started coming in after work and I taught myself how to use the 3D software.

           There was no Internet, no YouTube help at the time. It was me, in a room. We didn't have Internet at Interplay at the time. It was me, in a room, with these manuals, trying to make heads or tails out of what I was going to do and how I was going to make it.

ERIC DeMILT

           The first Interplay logo was made before 3D programs had particle systems, so we actually lit a sparkler, videotaped it, then cut out the frames of the sparkler's particles. If you look at an old-school Interplay game, there's a piece of marble that flies through space, and this laser etches the Interplay logo into it. That was a piece of marble left over from Brian Fargo's mansion remodel or something. He brought in a piece of green marble and said, "I want to laser-cut things into this."

           So, I held a sparkler in my hand and videotaped it, and we had to cut out every particle. Then we got a 3D programmer who did the laser-and-molten-gold effect.

ROB NESLER

             When we worked on the [Super] Nintendo games, there was this editor, and it was horrible. You had to create a palette, and creating that palette involved a lot of entering RGB [red-green-blue] values initially. Then you had special rules, such as the tile size, and the tool was per-pixel editing. There was no brush [to paint wide swathes of pixels]. It was torture to build a tile set with that program.

             I look back on that and remember that we were so stuck on Deluxe Paint and Deluxe Paint Animator for DOS. Those were our tools. The idea of using a workstation with 3D software on it hadn't yet occurred to us, even though I had used it before on another company, but that was on a Mac and we [Interplay] did use Macs.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I made a little character as a proof of concept, to show that I could do it. They said, "Okay, you can make this tentacle temple creature for the game." I designed it myself. I started from scratch again. I became this 3D artist who did a bunch of characters, did some scenery work. I kept doing some of the pixel stuff, and every now and then I had to go back and cut out some more creatures.

Shattered Steel was BioWare's first game.

FEARGUS URQUHART

           On Shattered Steel, which was the first game I worked on with BioWare, I wrote the VO [voiceover] script. I mean, who am I to write a VO script for a game? A stupid, twenty-five-year-old without a college degree? But that's what I liked about being a producer. I liked being involved with how it was all going to come together, putting that puzzle together.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            It was really a team effort. I was just happy making games. If they said, "Hey, we need someone to enter all these stats," well, sure, I'll sit down and do that. That seems okay to me.

ROB NESLER

            As the company grew, your knowledge of all the people and the processes elevated you into a leadership position almost naturally. I was an artist for a few years, but I think maybe in the case of Interplay, there was some growth that happened pretty quickly, and perhaps I was advanced into the art director leadership position a little quicker in an effort to meet those growth needs.

CHRIS PARKER

            A lot of those people didn't really know what the heck they were doing, or why. That resulted in a lot of things that were really well-organized and smartly done, but also in things that were chaotic. You kind of had to—very intelligently and in a politically nice way—push your agenda through. If you were really smart about it, and you could do that, you could get a lot of stuff done.

ERIC DeMILT

           I think the ability to make decisions quickly without an obvious right answer [in sight] is important. A lot of what we do is invent new things: new systems, new content, new techniques for making that content. It's easy to get bogged down and paralyzed. "Do we need this new thing?" Sometimes there's no right answer, and maybe it would make the project ten percent better, or maybe it wouldn't. You've got a lot of super-smart people: brilliant designers who are passionate about what they're doing, talented programmers who can tell you technically why A or B should or should not happen.

           You've got to be able to take all of that and, while knowing less than they do about any particular subject, be willing to make a decision just to move things forward.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I had started work on Fallout with Tim. There's a weird gray area there, because I feel like I'd been assigned to Tim's project but hadn't actually started working on it. Then I saw the credits with Stonekeep, when I was working on the intro movie. I saw the credits, and found out I was now a lead artist. I was like, "Great. I'm a lead artist."

            I went from there to be the lead artist on Fallout, and I felt like I was doing much more than art directing. I was almost a creative director on there. So, I just promoted myself. No one at Interplay ever said, "Yes, you're the art director," or "You can be the art director." No one ever said anything, so that's how I became an art director on Fallout.

After Hours

At five p.m., office drones punch a clock and head home. Interplay’s developers left the office as well, but only to grab a bite to eat. Those in the middle of crunch—an industry term for overtime in order to meet a project deadline—came back to work through the night. Most of their peers joined them, but not to work. They were there to throw dice.

Wiz-War.

ERIC DeMILT

            Tim and I are good friends. A bunch of us would go over to his house and play Wiz-War, so we were always talking about different games. Wiz-War was this cool Steve Jackson tabletop game. It's fun! Look it up. Play it.

TIM CAIN

            When I was at UCI [University of California, Irvine], I used to introduce grad students to different gaming systems. We played Dungeons & Dragons, Torg, GURPS, Spelljammers, a bunch of different things. I got to Interplay and was really excited because there were a bunch of people there who wanted to play. I didn't even have to ask. Someone said, "Yeah, if you want to run any game sessions, we're looking [game masters]."

           Everyone wanted to play, no one wanted to run. They were looking for basically DM-type people. So, I started running GURPS sessions after hours.

CHRIS PARKER

            There were social events you could do on any given night of the week. There were tons of games happening all over the company, Dungeons & Dragons games and stuff like that. It was a really work-hard-play-hard environment.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I think it was the first Advanced D&D, if not the original D&D. The reason I don't know is because I had the box and I had all this stuff, but I didn't know anybody who played D&D.

TIM CAIN

            I liked GURPS because it was generic. We could play whatever genre we wanted. We tried a whole bunch of different things. We tried GURPS in space, we played GURPS time travel. We did one called GURPS Everything, where I said, "You can make a character using any abilities from any book you want." That was a crazy, crazy session.

           The storyline was a bunch of people attending a funeral. So, nobody knew anybody. The players didn't know each other, and they didn't know who died. They just got an invitation: "Hey, this person named you in their will so you have to show up." We had people using GURPS psionics, GURPS high-tech, GURPS space. There was one person there who made their character literally insane. They were literally insane. They thought they were a time traveler and they weren't. They were an escaped mental patient.

           We had so much fun with that game because nobody knew where it was going to go, where it could go. Then we tried another one called GURPS Nothing, where I said, "You can't use anything. No supplements. Just use the basic set." That was fun, too.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I tried to get my friends to play. We'd read all the instructions, and you can't start playing D&D that way. You need to learn the game from somebody who's actually played. We'd spend days making characters and then we'd die within five minutes.

           We said, "This sucks. We don't know how to do this."

TIM CAIN

            I made a little dungeon once: it was six, seven rooms. I would play a different group through it every night. It was in GURPS Conan. Every group had a completely different experience in it. One group never made it past the second room. They started in-fighting and killed themselves.

           Another group made it out, but they had to sacrifice one of their people to do so. Basically, a monster was bearing down on all of them, and they're like, "Well, if we let it catch Scottie [Everts], maybe it'll stop to eat him and the rest of us can make it out." That's what they did. Other groups had this big battle with it and they died; others had a big battle, and they lived. It was this really amazing thing.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I went to Interplay and started playing GURPS with Tim and some of the other people who ended up on the Fallout team. Tim was the GM. That was my first experience actually playing pen-and-paper games. It was really fun.

TIM CAIN

            One thing Leonard said to me was, "I can't believe it's always so different." And I said, "It's different because you're all different." He played one session, then he came the next night and just watched. I said, "It's the same rooms, with the same GM, using the same rules, but because the players are so different, using different abilities and making different decisions, it will come out entirely differently."

           He said, "Why don't we do that in computer RPGs?" I said, "I don't know. We should do that in ours." That was the genesis of, we want to make sure we track what the player does so that the game will be different for people who want to play differently, are acting differently, and are playing different types of characters.

Late-night GURPS sessions led organically to an idea: Why not build a roleplaying game from the ground up? It would be original, featuring a unique world and characters, and it would run on a known rules system licensed by Interplay.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            The thing was that Interplay had been known for doing some really cool RPGs in the past. Brian Fargo wanted to do another RPG, so he sent out an email to the company and said, "We want to make an RPG. Here are three IPs we could license." One was Vampire: The Masquerade, which, you know, cool license.

           The last one GURPS, and GURPS isn't so much a setting as it is a system, but it's a system that I liked to play, and a bunch of Interplay people liked to play, like Tim Cain. It was Tim Cain's go-to RPG system, and it was mine. We had ongoing GURPS games.

BRIAN FARGO

            Of course, you only know about the games that were green-lit. You can imagine the games that were turned down: Hundreds of them. Sometimes people would come in and pitch me, and it just wouldn't grab me. I wouldn't like it, and sometimes I couldn't even put my finger on it.

The execution in Fallout's introduction stirred up controversy at Steve Jackson Games.

TIM CAIN

            Some of the other producers had complained that I was talking to their [teams] while they were trying to work.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            Tim sent out this email saying, "Whoever wants to design this game and talk about what this game could be, come after work," because he couldn't recruit people [away from other projects] to help him.

TIM CAIN

            Since everybody could technically go home at six, I sent out an email saying, "I'm going to be in Conference Room 3 with a couple pepperonis and a cheese pizza at six. If you want to talk about developing a new game, I've got the engine partially written. I can show you what the features are. I can kind of show you how the scripting is going to work. Come by and we can talk about what genres you like."

           I hadn't even picked that out. There was no art, no genre.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            Only five or six people showed up. Which, to me, was shocking. Even if you didn't want to design a game from scratch—and I couldn't believe people didn't want to be involved in that—there was free pizza! If you don't care about one, I'd think you'd care about the other.

TIM CAIN

            I remember what was surprising at the time was how few people showed up. I expected there to be twenty or thirty people packed into that conference room because, hey, we can make whatever game we want! Instead there were maybe eight, ten.

Leonard Boyarsky, Chris Taylor, Scott Everts, Chris Jones, Jason Taylor, and Scott Campbell grabbed a slice and commenced brainstorming. That meeting, and that pizza, was the first of many.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I have to say, the thing that more than anything else made Fallout, Fallout, was those Coco—which is a restaurant in California—meetings. They have really tasty pancake dinners, so we would go there and eat sugar for dinner, and then throw out ideas. I'm sure Fallout came somewhere out of there.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            We all talked about it. It didn't matter what your job was; it didn't matter whether you were on a team or not; it didn't matter what you were doing on that team. We all sat together, and we talked about what we wanted our game to be at a very high level.

           The conversations about the game were 100 percent after work. We knew we were going to make a GURPS game. Tim had convinced Brian Fargo to get the GURPS license, and GURPS is a generic system, so we had to figure out everything about it. We just knew what the system was going to be. Nothing about the narrative, nothing about the setting.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I was working on Kingdom II: Shadoan at the time. Shadoan was our first 16-bit, color game. It was [based on a movie].

BRIAN FARGO

           I was wearing my marketing hat, thinking, I'm filling a hole in the marketplace. For example, Blizzard is very brilliant at that. They're creative. When they did WarCraft, they said, "Everybody loves Dune. Let's do a [fantasy-themed] strategy game." That's as high-concept as you get. There was only one real-time strategy game of any notoriety [Dune II], I would say.

           That was a very smart business decision: To look at a category. Sometimes I would look at things that way. Other times I'd look at them purely from a gamer's perspective, but one of the two had to intrigue me.

TIM CAIN

            Chris Taylor was lead designer on Stonekeep, and that producer would not let him go. Chris Taylor was only allowed to talk to us after hours. We would meet. We would talk about all different genres. I said, "I don't want to make any decisions. I just want to talk about stuff." We talked about sci-fi games, horror games.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Tim was very inclusive. I had a huge GURPS collection, and I had a fairly good memory at the time. I don't now, but I could recall certain things from all the GURPS books that I owned. So, I would go [to meetings], and they would say, "We want to make two-headed cows. What are the rules for two-headed cows?" I'd remember there were rules in some book, so I'd say them. I was just kind of making myself helpful.

The team was in accord: They would make a roleplaying game. But what type? And what setting? The particulars were up for debate.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            The very first iteration of the game was kind of a traditional fantasy game, just because we had some of those assets and were easy to [plug] in there. But they knew they didn't want to do a fantasy game.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           I just felt like everybody was doing that. If you're making an RPG, you're making an epic-fantasy game. I've always wanted to do stuff that no one else would have done. That's why when Tim, Jason, and I decided to make a fantasy RPG I said, "No, it should be a fantasy game, but after an industrial revolution. The technology and world should have kept moving after the fourteenth century.

           I always want to see something different. I want to see something that other people haven't done in terms of setting. I wouldn't want our game to be confused with anybody else's. It's just a weird [stance] I've always had, and I didn't even realize it until I looked back on the projects I've done and the things I was interested in.

TIM CAIN

           At one point it was post-apocalyptic, but aliens had caused [the end of the world], and humans were living on reservations. It was a whole bunch of crazy stuff.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            We started talking about a time-travel game. We had this whole story worked out and all these details about it. But it was a game you could just never make.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We would go to dinner at Coco's and throw out random game ideas about using the GURPS system to make multi-dimensional travel game where you started in a sci-fi world, went to a fantasy world, and there were cops and robbers, noir detective stories—all using the same system, but the settings would be different. Then someone sat down and budgeted how much art that would cost, and said, "Well, maybe we shouldn't do that."

TIM CAIN

            We had a whole story written about time travel. It was going to be a film noir, detective adventure. We had it all written out and partially storyboarded. And then... I forget who—it might have been Michael Quarles on Stonekeep—he looked at it and said, "This is insanely complicated."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            There wouldn't be a lot of reuse of tiles. Fallout was a tile-based game. If you look at it, you can see it's built out of repeating tiles. It could have been made; anything could be made, within reason. But we would have had to make so many different tile sets. If you're going from time period to time period, there wouldn't be a lot of reuse between the areas you could build. It was simple economics.

           And the story was pretty insane, from what I remember. It was this haphazard thing.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            It was a multi-dimensional travel game that would have been really cool, because you had one character, and it took you through all these different worlds. Kind of like The Number of the Beast from [fantasy author Robert] Heinlein. Or Sliders, the TV show. It took you to all these variant worlds, and the rules would remain the same, but the settings would be different. Some of them would be serious, others would be more comical.

           Tim had one little world where the bad guy broke the fourth wall: He knew he was in a computer game, so every time you defeated him, he would reload your save-game, and you had to steal the save-game disk before you could beat him permanently. Stuff like that that was really just super creative.

TIM CAIN

           It had, like, thirty or forty main acts. To put it in perspective, Fallout had three. We threw it out.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            You can imagine: It was a bunch of guys in their mid to late twenties, sitting around a table, eating pizzas, talking about games they'd like to make. Somebody would say an idea, and somebody else would run with it. It would morph over time into something completely different. We threw out a bunch of ideas.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Another concept was going to be a sci-fi game set on a generation ship. We were actively trying to find ways of melding genres because of the strength of the GURPS system: Being able to incorporate all these different genres with one, unified rule system.

           Tim even designed the game so that there was a game engine, and then there was the actual game. They were two separate things. All the content was separated from the underlying engine for how things attacked and all that stuff.

Tim Cain's notion to divide his engine into modules seemed prudent. Other trends that struck him as appealing at first ended up slowing down progress. The team rolled with punches, viewing technical and resource limitations as puzzles to solve.

TIM CAIN

            3D was becoming popular, but 3D cards hadn't come out yet, so everything was software rendered. I made a 3D software renderer, and it was horrible. Really slow. I was talking with the guy making Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, and he had a 3D [software] renderer. I said, "Why is yours so fast and why is mine so slow?"

           He goes, "Because I'm in space. I'm only rendering a ship. You're trying to render people wearing all this complicated gear, all this terrain, all these buildings." I said, "Well... shoot."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            Tim was really great in that a lot of people, when they're given control of a project, are just like, "I know everything about everything, and this is how everything is going to work. This is my creative vision; you do what I tell you to do." I think in one of the first conversations I had with Tim, he said, "I don't know anything about art, so you guys just make sure the art looks cool."

           That was pretty much his artistic input. He loved what we were doing. If he didn't, he probably would have been more concerned with what was going on.

TIM CAIN

           I switched to voxels, which are, like, two-and-a-half-D. They're pixels with height. I made all this really cool stuff, but the only thing that really worked was the islands.

ERIC DeMILT

            Originally there was some disagreement over the wondrous abilities in a windowing system that one Interplay programmer had written. Tim was frustrated by that. This was back in the day when you had to write everything from scratch, so he wrote the framework for this thing that would later be used in a ton of Interplay products.

           He was writing this framework, and was doing different things with it. He did a height field voxel renderer in it, just experimenting with different things.

TIM CAIN

           Leonard was laughing because we were talking about this the other day. I said, "Remember I made that voxel-island game?" He said, "Yeah! Too bad we weren't making a game where you lived on islands."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            We were going to make it 3D in that we were going to use 3D programs to do the art. We talked about it being a first-person or third-person game. This might have been right around [the release of] Tomb Raider. Being somebody who was really involved in the art, not just in terms of [Fallout] but in terms of making stuff that I'd slaved over for years, I wanted to make sure it looked as good as possible.

Crusader: No Remorse.

TIM CAIN

            I ended up playing with a 2D engine because Crusader: No Remorse was out, and I really liked the look. I got Jason [Anderson], who was newly hired, to make me a little knight walking around. I made the ground texture, with props on it, and the knight. That got me animation, sprites, a primitive UI with a mouse and some clicking.

           I was so proud of that, that if you have an original Fallout 1 disc, there's a demo folder, and there's a demo.exe in there. It's that little game. It's not even really a game. It's you walking around a field full of boulders and flowers as a knight.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           We'd talked briefly about other 3D views, and I said, "Nope. We're not going to do them. You can't make the art look good enough." For me, the only way to do art that could have the kind of detail [in] characters was to say, "We're using 3D programs to make 2D sprites."

Fantasy and time travel were out. A post-apocalyptic setting featuring a unique blend of starkness and irreverence was more alluring, and shared much in common with an earlier Interplay-made RPG that had gone over well with players.

TIM CAIN

            Once we decided to make it sprite-based, we had more meetings about genre. It was, "Okay, we're making a post-apoc [game] with a sprite engine." That's when Jason, Leonard, and a few other artists started churning a lot of sprites for us to use. It was very Mad Max: Road Warrior-esque at the beginning.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            It became what it was in terms of tone, in terms of comedy, in terms of the way we did humor yet how dark it was at the same time. That all came from these discussions. There was never a decision made, like, "This is how it should be." All of our personalities together—that's how we came up with it.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Because we had the GURPS system, the setting was really up to us. When I came on, it was already post-apocalyptic. It wasn't called Fallout yet, but it was still using GURPS.

           In fact, the game was originally going to be called Armageddon, but there was another producer at Interplay who wanted to make an Armageddon-themed game, so he said we couldn't use that title. Then that title eventually got cancelled or never made, so we had to come up with Fallout to replace a title for a game that never got made.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            The post-apocalyptic [direction] was something Jason and I were pushing really hard. We were big Road Warrior fans, and we didn't want to make a fantasy game. At one point, the apocalypse was caused by aliens invading.

TIM CAIN

            Chris Taylor loved Wasteland, and Leonard loved Road Warrior. We said, "Why don't we just try post-apoc?" It was easy to have adventures if there wasn't a lot of that type of environment around. That's when Brian said, "I may be able to get the Wasteland license. We could make this Wasteland 2." We were like, "Okay! We're post-apoc!"

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Brian Fargo had come to us and said he wanted to do, basically, the next Wasteland. There were things that he'd had like, "Exploding like a blood sausage," text in ways that he wanted to see it. That was probably the genesis moment for the over-the-top violence, deaths, and stuff like that.

           But he also had other things from Wasteland that he wanted to see in there. He talked about this one moment where you run into this boy, and his dog is missing, and you kill this rabid dog that it turns out was the boy's dog. It wasn't a black-and-white quest. There was a lot of gray. No matter what, you couldn't make the exact right decision. That influenced the design.

TIM CAIN

            Some of us had played Wasteland, and some of us hadn't. After a while, we all sat down and played it after we decided it would be post-apoc. After we decided that, that was the first time we got Fargo's direct attention. He asked to get the Wasteland license from EA.

           They spent a year trying to do that. EA just strung them along, and there was no intention of ever giving them the license.

Interplay’s failure to wrangle the Wasteland license from Electronic Arts’ grip was a blessing in disguise. Free of the rules and lore of an existing franchise, the Fallout team was free to brainstorm their own apocalyptic setting and trappings. Leonard Boyarsky hit on a unique medley at a time when his brain was moving a million miles a minute, while his car wasn't moving at all.

TIM CAIN

            We were very much an '80s or '90s-style post-apoc, whatever you want to view Mad Max as. Leonard had the idea.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I had this really long drive [home]. I was stuck in traffic, and my mind was wandering. I thought, You know what would be really cool? If this was a 1950s future. I don't know why I thought that would be cool. I don't know why I thought that would work with a post-apocalyptic setting.

TIM CAIN

            He said, "What if we do post-apocalyptic worlds the way that movies in the 1950s thought it would happen?" An atom bomb went off and that made monsters, mutants, and horribly irradiated people. They thought, Well, science will get us through this. Science created this nightmare and science will get us through it.

           We were like, "That's great," because we could have a lot of fun with that optimism.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I went into work the next day and told a bunch of people. They all looked at me like I was insane. I remember specifically the first person I told was Rob Nesler, and he looked at me like I was insane. But he said, "Well, you seem really passionate about it. You should just do it, see how it goes."

           That was fantastic. I don't know why they had faith that Jason and I could pull this off, with the help of the artists working with us.

TIM CAIN

            That idea simultaneously made Fallout go in the direction it did: A '50s-style future, but also the kind of humor we liked, too, which was very dark and silly.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I feel like a lot of elements were already there, and [this direction] helped them coalesce into something bigger. We had some of the Vault-Tec stuff. We had the idea of the Pip-Boy. I believe even the name "Vault Boy" was already there.

           So it was kind of weird that we were already making this 1950s-B-movie version of the apocalypse. I felt like the next step was to go all the way and make it a 1950s-B-movie version of the apocalypse.

TIM CAIN

            Leonard's dark and I'm silly, so we made Fallout dark and silly, which was a very interesting tone. It made Fallout feel unique among other RPGs that Interplay was making.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            It's funny, because I look back on it, and, yeah, we knew we were going to be making this game, but it was really the spirit of, we weren't in a garage, but it was like we were. Anything goes. Whatever we want to do. No one was there to tell us what we should or shouldn't do, or what we could do.

           It was this purely creative [time] with a bunch of people having fun, talking about what a great game would be.

Building Blocks

With a theme in mind and the formal partnership of GURPS license-holder Steve Jackson Games in place, Fallout's small team set about defining technical staples.

TIM CAIN

            We really loved turn-based, tactical fighting. That was another way for us to distinguish ourselves from the real-time-with-pause RPGs that were coming out, because we were pure turn-based.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Stonekeep finally finished and shipped, and there was brief talk of doing a Stonekeep 2, but we were kind of sitting around. That's when Scott Campbell left the team, and they needed a new lead designer.

           Because I was familiar with GURPS, and I was friends with a lot of people on the team, it just seemed like a really good fit, and it was. I slotted right in.

TIM CAIN

            It was really complicated, too, because originally we tried to print out tiles using the same camera perspective we were going to have in the game. That introduced perspective issues, so the way we ended up doing it was we pulled the camera back to infinity and then zoomed in. That made all the lines fairly parallel.

           That's why [Fallout] isn't really isometric; it's oblique, that 60/90 angle we picked, which is trimetric, not isometric.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            A lot of the areas were already designed. The core storyline of being in the Vaults, the Vault Dweller—that was all there, but it was all high-level stuff. One of the first things I did was just kind of trim some of the fat, get it down to a little more manageable size, focus the story a little bit.

           Then we started doing more in-depth level design with maps, map keys, and, "Here's these kinds of monsters and they have these kinds of stats," and "Here are these NPCs, who will say these kinds of things to you," and, "Oh, here are all the quests you can do."

TIM CAIN

            Also, the fact that there's no perspective loss. When the buildings slope away, they don't get any smaller up top than they are at the bottom, which you have to have in an isometric game.

           But it's very hard to make a 3D engine do that because a 3D engine wants to make it three-dimensional and slowly dwindle as it goes off in one direction. That was really hard to account for. Back then we had to fake it by pulling the camera out to infinity then pulling it back in, zooming back in from infinity.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            My first couple of weeks were spent editing. Like, "Well, this area makes a lot of sense, because it's got something that's duplicated by this area over here," or "These characters don't really work together." I just spent a lot of my time going through documents that were already there with a red pen, highlighting things, crossing some things out, making some notes.

           There was a team of designers I worked with, and we assigned areas to each one of them and worked from there. But there was so much work already done when I got there that it was more a question of picking and choosing the right elements to incorporate into the game than having to create from scratch.

Players begin in the dim recesses of Vault 13, one of few underground dwellings where survivors took shelter during the nuclear holocaust. Life in Vault 13 is claustrophobic and predictable—until the chip responsible for filtering clean water is broken. Assuming the role of a Vault Dweller, players are tasked with finding a replacement water chip within 150 days. Any longer, and Vault 13's inhabitants will die of thirst. Players leave the Vault and enter a cave infested with rats standing between them and the surface.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Designers were assigned: "Here's your area, start fleshing it out." I came up with a template for level-design documents, and it wasn't as rigorous as what you have nowadays.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I'm pretty sure I had finished up on Shadoan. I wasn't assigned on a project. I was doing Fallout on the side. Interplay was very loose. You could bounce around things, and no one cared too much.

            If I remember correctly, they were planning to have the designers lay out the levels. I was talking with Tim [Cain], and I'd played GURPS with him. We'd played various games together. We had a big Atari Lynx group that used to play every week. I offered to take a crack at doing the demo level, and they liked it, and then asked me to do the rest of the levels.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I would have killed for a wiki back then, some kind of online, collaborative tool so we could all work on the same document. We had to pass around floppy disks with Word documents on them. Keeping versions [organized] was scary.

TIM CAIN

            Before we had [professional] VO, Scott Everts did a lot of our VO. When you shot someone, you'd hear Scott go, "Owie." BANG! BANG! "Owie, owie." When I did the flamethrower, it was going to start that "Owie" when everybody got hit by a flame. It would play the sounds a millisecond apart.

           So there were around seven instances of that sound effect starting closely together, and it made this weird, stretched-out noise, like, "OOOOOOOWWWWWIIIIIIIEEEEEEE." It was very funny because Scott came running in to find out what the noise was, and I said, "It's actually you, stretched out in WAV form."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I'm pretty sure I started with Vault 13, because that was the [early] part of the game, and I wanted to get the early gameplay experience designed first, knowing that we'd probably go back and revisit it. It's the player's first impression of the game, so you want to make it tuned and as good as possible. But we needed to have some starting point, and I think I just picked Vault 13.

Scott Everts.

SCOTT EVERTS

            When I was doing Fallout 1, a designer would draw stuff out in a drafting program. He would have a grid and say, "Here's a building. Doors are here, so you can come in this side. The interior walls are like this." They may write a note saying, "This is the boss's room. Its lieutenant is here. There's an encounter over there."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            The way my process worked was I used a graphic illustration program to lay out the maps and design levels in 2D, and then I went in and keyed the maps. In [Microsoft] Word, I'd open up a document and write, "In Area 1, here's the description, here's these characters, these items." It's listing contents so the artists know what they need to create, the level designers know what they need to put down, the programmers know what scripts they need to create, and all that good stuff.

           I started with Vault 13 and laid everything out, working on the rat cave at the very beginning, working my way out from there.

TIM CAIN

            When you shot projectiles, it just referenced a piece of art, like, "Here's the projectile to use." One of the designers had hastily thrown in the rocket launcher, but instead of putting in the art ID for a missile, he put in the ID for a guard, so the rocket launcher shot guards. Instead of looking like they shot out of the rocket launcher, they just appeared running in midair, running toward the target.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I would sit down, and what I'd do first is just put down some walls. Nothing else. Then I would show the designer. He'd say, "That's good. Why don't we move this building closer to over here," or "Let's put cover over here so you can sneak past this point."

            Once we got all that done, and we had buildings where we wanted them and rooms set up the way we wanted them, I'll go in and decorate. I'll put in ground details, interior details, shelving, junk, all that sort of thing. We'd do it in sections. You don't want to just finish all of it before reviewing it with the designer.  It’s a lot easier to nail down the important locations before spending time on decorating. You don’t want to have to rebuild everything.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            The process was pretty much the same for everyone: Start in an area, do an overview, detail the maps, expand on the maps and the level design, and finally, work on the dialogue. I enjoy doing that, and I think my dialogue was pretty well received, but it's painful for me to write dialogue because I hate the way it sounds when I say it. I'm constantly sitting there talking out loud, rewriting it. I probably annoyed my officemates way too much.

TIM CAIN

            The designer then changed it to be the Dogmeat model, which we all thought was funny: We had a launcher that shot dogs. It turned out that the Tick, the animated show, there was this female character—I don't know if she was a hero or villain—who had a poodle gun. A gun that shot poodles at people. We were like, "We just put that in our game."

SCOTT EVERTS

            That first level is all about teaching you how systems work. That's basically a tutorial: this is how combat works; this is how you attack. The enemies aren't too dangerous, so you can't get too screwed up if you do a bad job of [combat]. That's really the whole point of that level. Rats made sense there, and if we did [the game] now they might be something different.

            An awful lot of it was by the seat of your pants. It was, "We need to come up with a new level, and we need some enemies." I wasn't very involved in choosing what the enemies would be, because, really, all that level was designed for was to get you out into the world. You get that nice, opening video where the door opens, and you emerge in a cave, and then you see rats scurrying around.

           I think you can outrun them, too. You can just run out of the cave. We didn't tend to overthink it back then.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had another guy, [designer] Mark O'Green. He ended up writing a lot of the spoken dialogue for the characters, and it was fantastic. His process for creating dialogue was so much more efficient than mine. It was really cool to watch, and working with him helped me do dialogue for games I've done since then.

Vaults 13 and 15 are two of Fallout's most iconic locations. Junktown, a small outpost in the game's incarnation of southern California cobbled together out of wrecked cars, is another. The town hosts a number of attractions, from a casino (allegedly) riddled with cheating to stores where players can stock up on supplies. It’s also the starting point for several quests. Scott Everts built it tile by tile. In parallel, more of the gameplay mechanics that would allow players to explore the town and interact with its inhabitants at their own pace came online.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I said, "Let me play with the editor." I threw together the original Junktown. Tim said, "Wow, this is pretty cool. Do you want to do all of [the areas]?" I put some overtime in, I did some stuff on the side, basically just to get this [demo] together.

            That's the way the industry worked back then: "We need bodies. Who can do what?" It took a lot of load off the designers, because now all they have to do is tell me what they want.

TIM CAIN

            The first thing I learned was that no player ever does what you think they're going to do.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I like that you can turn on Killian or go after Gizmo, the play between those two. I think that's really central to the core of what Fallout is. Fallout is giving the world to the player and saying, "Yeah, if you want to do this, do it. There's a reaction to it. Or if you want to do that other thing, do that. I don't care what you do, but you will care, because there will be consequences for your actions."

           I think that option to play the sheriff versus the gangster in that one city is probably my favorite quest line, just because it is, in my mind, so stereotypically Fallout.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I remember going out to a restaurant, and we were working on... I think it was the first raiders' camp. We were drawing on napkins: building here, building there, this person's over here. They would say, "Do what you want. Make it look cool." That's basically how we did all the levels. I'd sit down with a designer and we'd figure out where all the important things were.

TIM CAIN

            When I was GM'ing, I tried to make a storyline, but I'd take a lot of notes about, okay, if they decide to explore this village, here's some stuff that's interesting; if they go into the forest, here are things that are interesting. Basically, if they don't go to the dragon cave, here are other things around that are interesting to do.

           Judges Guild, an old, now-defunct company, made supplements like that that I thought were far superior to what TSR was putting out at the time. That influenced me a lot.

Junktown.
Junktown.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I was often rooming with Scottie, so I got to see the levels as they were created. It was really neat. If you've seen a Dungeons & Dragons map, those were kind of what I'd create. I'd use squares and draw them out, and then Scottie would take it and make it look cool. He'd be building.

SCOTT EVERTS

            Originally it was just walls. One of the problems with our editor was you had to really, really get to know it. There was no category system. There was just a row of art in no particular order, like, here are all the tile pieces, here are prop pieces.

            What they did was they drew these ground details and then just dropped them into a tile-cutting program to cut them up. Designers would just lay down one tile [theme], put some buildings in there, and some tables and chairs, and that was it. I had to learn how pieces fit together. It was like a big jigsaw puzzle.

ERIC DeMILT

            I think the only meaningful impact I had on the game in terms of production—and this is now kind of a joke internally—but there was this "What Would Eric Do?" play path that Tim would test for, because I used to murder everything in the game. We still have “What Would Eric Do?” design questions in the games we work on today.

TIM CAIN

            When we were making Fallout, one of the things I used to say to the designers was, "We have a main story arc, and I always want to make sure I can talk my way through it, or sneak my way through it, or fight my way through it. But then I want you to remember what happened so that later on, the game can be a little different."

           Or, if it's the end of the game, we can show you a very different [ending] for somebody who killed everybody, versus somebody who got both sides to work together and everybody was living in possibly an uneasy truce, but they're still alive and Junktown is functioning.

           I wanted the player to know: "We saw you do that, and the game's going to react to it."

Junktown.
Junktown.

TIM DONLEY

            After Shattered Steel, the next game I worked on full-time was Rock 'n' Roll Racing 2. During that, I was helping with Fallout. Everybody had to [work on multiple projects] at some point because there were a few products they were trying to pull together. You'd get pulled off one project [for another]. Like, okay, I'm working on Rock 'n' Roll, but I'm helping out with Fallout.

           I didn't know a lot about Fallout and they said, "Go talk to Tramel [Ray Isaac] and Brian." Tramel was one of the artists who was on it, and he would play all the time. Now, I had no idea what the game was about. I had nothing except post-apocalyptic stuff. He's sitting there with Jason [Anderson], who was also one of the designers/artists on it. Jason's standing behind him watching, and Tramel is walking through a town. He had a hammer, and he was hitting characters with this hammer, and every time he'd hit him they'd fall to the ground dead, and they'd slide into walls or hit something.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We'd put the level into the game, play it for a little bit. It'd be rough in the beginning. He'd fine-tune it after we were happy with the placement of the walls, the doors, stuff like that.

ERIC DeMILT

            There's an NPC named Gizmo. He's the only [character] built into a piece of furniture: He's a big, fat crime lord sitting in a chair. He didn't have any death animations, and they put this super-difficult-to-kill guard in his room. You were supposed to chat him up and figure out what quests you needed to do so you could progress his quest line. I made a character and min-maxed the crap out of sniping and critical hits, so I managed to kill his guard and then kill him.

           He had no death animation. The key or whatever it was he was supposed to give you as a result of doing something for him, he couldn't give you, because I had murdered him. Tim said, "No, that's not possible." I said, "Well, Tim, he's dead." He said, "Why would you do that?" I said, "Because I can. That's kind of my thing."

           So, Gizmo got death animations as a result of my play style. The item he gave you that moved the quest forward got put into a locked [container] next to him, and his guards were kept, but were no longer considered invincible.

SCOTT EVERTS

            What I'd do is I would go in and look at all these ground tiles. There would be rocks, grass. I'd start building these little details into the ground so it didn't look like the same tiles stamped over and over again. Around the edges, we put these little sand [tiles] to make it look like sand was building up around the edges.

           We put barrels and junk in there, all this stuff, just to make it not look like a big, dull, brown [landscape].

TIM CAIN

            I know that when I GM'd a game, they were thrilled when a local noblewoman would say, "Oh, you killed the dragon and not a single villager was lost. I'm giving you extra money," or, "I'm going to give you this magic sword on top of [the standard reward." That would encourage my players to say, "Let's try doing the good thing all the time," which then would usually get them into trouble.

           You learned a lot of things playing paper-and-pencil [games] that hadn't been explored yet in computer RPGs.

TIM DONLEY

            He's just hitting people. Somebody would ask him a question, like, "So, stranger, where are you headed? Do you need to get some gas?" And he'd say, "No." WHACK. And then the guy flies away. Then he goes, "No more questions, please." He'd say some ridiculous one-liner. Then he pulls out a flamethrower and starts burning everybody in the town. He's making these comments [as he plays]. Some shopkeeper's like, "Can I sell you something?' and he'd burn him to ash, and then he'd say, "He died soundlessly."

            Jason is laughing his head off, and I start laughing because it's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life. I said, "You can do this in this game?" And Tramel's like, "Oh, yeah. You can kill everybody in this town. It's amazing." I had never seen a game like that. I thought they were in debug mode or something. I was thinking, The real game won't let you do this. No. It was wide open.

In many cases, Fallout’s technical underpinnings were engineered to facilitate a designer’s whims: characters, environments, quests, and features, as well as winks and nods to popular culture.

TIM CAIN

            We talked about doing the Wasteland-style saving, but it was so easy to cheat that that we didn't do it. However, we did do little [similar] things. Some rolls were pre-rolled on your character, so if you went to pick a lock and you failed, and you tried saving right before you picked the lock and then reloading, it would just keep failing.

SCOTT EVERTS

            There were all sorts of pop culture references. We had the Tardis in one area. There were times when we'd sit around and say, "We need a bunch of rare encounters," and we'd come up with pop culture references. For some reason I remember the Doctor Who one.

TIM CAIN

            We pre-saved some of your rolls so you couldn't save-scum. I know we were very big on consequences for actions, so there's lots of data being stored behind the scenes for what you're doing. If you killed someone and saved the game, we had enough information stored that we knew if [an NPC] found a dead body within a reasonable amount of time, they'd know it was you who killed them.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I was a big fan of Tom Baker as Doctor Who, so I made sure to get that one in there. I remember setting it up because when you got to within a certain distance of it, it would play the Tardis-dematerialize sound. We had our sound department make a [different but tonally similar] sound. We were afraid to use the original because of the BBC’s copyright.

Some game levels exist in abstract forms. Mario's platforms and pits are inhabited by evil turtles and mushrooms. Those environments don't need to be realistic or livable. They just need to be navigable so that players can have fun traversing them. Fallout was different. Its world needed to resemble a place that had been, while catering to core design choices such as a focus on exploration and tactical combat.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            At one point, we were working on some of our level designs, and some of our buildings had multiple floors. You could go upstairs, go up to another level. That made sense, because, especially since you're in big cities, we didn't want everything to be a one-story building.

            But the programmer said, "We have a problem. You can either have dynamic lightning"—torches, things like that—"or you can have multiple floors. You can't have both." The designers were like, "Uh... this is a problem." So, we cheated.

SCOTT EVERTS

            On the inside, all you had at first was a table and chairs. We'd put some shelves over here, some junk over there. We'd change up the tiles. One of the problems with a tile-based game is if you just plunk down a bunch of tiles, the player may see a pattern. You break up different tiles to say, "If we need to use a floor tile here, give me four to eight versions of it so we can mix and match them, so players don't see a pattern."

           It was just fleshing levels out, trying to make them look like real, living areas.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            All the multi-level buildings are actually separate maps. When you go up one level, you're loading a different map. This way, we got to keep our dynamic lighting, and the player feels like he's moving up levels.

           But then there are things like, "Well, what happens if they look outside?" If you climb to a certain height in a building and look outside the window, that's all fake. It's a pre-rendered bitmap that's cut to sit [a certain way]. It's like a camera trick where people can make themselves look big or small compared to a building in the background. We had to fool the engine—and the player—into thinking the engine was more capable than it was.

TIM CAIN

            We had a lot of animation glitches. You'd open a door, and it would swing open on the hinge side, but then move again on the other side. It would literally walk off the map, and when it moved out of memory it would crash the game.

SCOTT EVERTS

           One of the funny things people used to tease me about was putting outhouses everywhere. People have to go to the bathroom. They have to have kitchens. I'd say, "This building needs a place for preparing food. They'll need an outhouse somewhere. They'll need storage areas." I made it look like a real place.

           When we were building military bases, I'd think, We need a mess area; we need a preparation area; we need a place where you store all your [weapons]; there's a bathroom over here, and here are sleeping areas. You wanted to think all that stuff out, because a lot of games, especially older ones, didn't have intelligently-laid-out levels. You've got to think, How do people live here?

TIM CAIN

            I'm terrible at optimization. I wrote the optimization system and the file-managing system. We wrote all of our file-managing [systems] so that we could eventually stick all files in one gigantic file and still read them out. Chris optimized all of that. The lighting system on Fallout was so bad that he had to change how everything worked in it, just so we could get a decent frame rate.

CHRIS TAYLOR

           Our programmers did a lot with very little. They were creating the engine from scratch, and designing the game at the same time, and redesigning the game when we lost the GURPS license.

           That was a lot of work. It came out better than I'd expected it to be at times. I'm very happy with those levels. I think, to this day, some of those levels and artwork still look good and are impressive.

TIM CAIN

            The other thing was, he rewrote the entire memory system so that at any particular time in the game, we could do a garbage collection that wouldn't slow down the game, but we could recover a lot of memory. That was good because there just wasn't a lot of memory to use. When the game started up, it would set aside of block as our data cache, and it would get fragmented and filled with stuff we didn't need. He wrote a really good garbage collector to clean it up without losing data we marked as important.

           Compacting that data, taking all the little bits and making one gigantic block, basically saved the game. There were times when if you went into the military base and approached the Master, we literally did not have any memory to devote to that. We were worried we were going to have to redesign that entire character, but Chris saved the day with his optimization.

The concept of open-ended design remains alluring to players and publishers, but setting boundaries can be as important as removing them. Too much freedom, and players can be overwhelmed by the paradox of choice. Too little, and walls close in, intruding on agency.

SCOTT EVERTS

            You want to kind of direct people so they're following this path without being too obvious about it, and you want areas where you can have encounters. One thing you don't want is an encounter area so cluttered that people can't move around. You want cover, and you want things to look interesting, but it also needs to [facilitate] combat.

           You see that a lot in Pillars of Eternity: You've got a path to get somewhere, and then there's an area that's more open so you can have battles. That was especially [problematic] in the old IE games, because when we started doing oversized monsters they would get jammed [in narrow areas].

TIM CAIN

            It's funny, I talked to one of the programmers for Wasteland, who was the executive producer on Fallout, Alan Pavlish. He talked me through those loot square and super-loot squares [used in Wasteland]. I didn't want it to work that way.

SCOTT EVERTS

            It's harder with 3D games because if people can walk anywhere, you may want to lead them somewhere, but a lot of them say, "Damn it, if you try and force me to go right, I'm going to go left."

           One of the lessons I learned on Fallout: New Vegas, and this is something I heard from Bethesda, was, "Wherever you stand, there should be something interesting to see." You know, something to attract the player's attention. "Hey, there's a comm tower here," or "I see a tall building." That leads them to go and investigate.

TIM CAIN

            What we ended up doing was, we did a lot of stuff with making a good random-number generator, but storing the seed so that the items that were in a chest could be randomly generated, but once you placed the chest in the world, you would always get the same stuff out of it for a particular game. There were things like that that we tried to do, more to save space: Don't generate anything until you absolutely need to generate it.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I noticed over the years that more games are into pointing you in a direction and trying to convince you to go that way. Depending on how you lay out a level, you can naturally lead someone to the next spot without being too obvious about it. We don't put a bunch of [boulders] in the path to say, 'You can't go this way.'

           That's one thing Obsidian feels really strongly about, and we certainly did this at Interplay too: We didn't want you to be forced to do something, we just pushed you in that direction.

TIM CAIN

            In Fallout, we ended up throwing away a lot of things. If you threw stuff on the ground and left, it would be gone when you got back. The assumption was that somebody came along and took it.

           A few years later, on another game, we actually started saving all those things. If you dropped a knife out in the woods, if you could find that same spot in the woods, that knife would still be there.

Happy Accidents

Despite limited resources and a too-small team, work Fallout proceeded apace—or seemed to. One afternoon, some of the artists opened up areas to touch them up only to notice there was nothing to touch up.

ERIC DeMILT

            Leadership, the ability to get a bunch of really talented people who have disparate opinions all pulling in the same direction, and being able to support them and galvanize them as a group, and support other leadership aspects of that team—that's all important. As projects get bigger, the organizational management and process side is important, too.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            A lot of Fallout was happy accidents. We all got together and decided what the story should be. We decided on the tone, and we decided on the quests. Then Jason and I went away with the other artists to make artwork. We weren't involved in day-to-day design stuff.

           Then, about three-quarters of the way through the game, we found out that a lot of the designers had dropped the ball.

TIM CAIN

            It's funny: Leonard and I talked about that, because he came in after he talked to you and said, "Remember how the Brotherhood of Steel area was empty?" I said, "Well, that one wasn't empty, but there was an empty one." There was one level that was completely blank, and that was the Boneyard. There were some things in Brotherhood of Steel, but it was only the main-story quest stuff; there was no side-quest stuff.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            They hadn't implemented a lot of what we'd talked about. There were design docs that specced out how stuff was supposed to work, and it just wasn't in the game. So Jason and I went in there and started doing a lot of design work, a lot of writing, and implementing what we thought was the original vision of the game.

           It was really disjoined in that way. I'd just been doing the art to sell the setting. I really wanted, when people played the game, for them to be immersed in that setting.

TIM CAIN

            It felt off. There were two characters: one guarded the gate, and another who was inside. They already had [voiceover], which meant we couldn't really change anything. We could re-order the VO; we could even cut some of the wav files to make some sentences a little different, but otherwise our hands were tied.

DAN SPITZLEY

            When Fallout was starting to wind down, it was clear that there was a lot of stuff that was not done that needed to be done, specifically in regard to scripting areas: getting conversations hooked up, getting the logic for quests working. It was decided that a handful of us would take some time off of [Planescape] Torment to do scripting work.

            I took on the responsibility for scripting the Hub level. There was a lot of work associated with that. At the time, we didn't know how big Fallout was going to be in terms of [critical and commercial] response, so I did the best I could by getting to know the systems they were building.

Dan Spitzley.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I don't want to cast aspersions on anybody I worked with. I think those guys were really talented. There was a lot of really good stuff there. They were just as invested in what was going on as we were, so I'm not quite sure what happened.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had always been working on stuff, and we'd just not gotten around to those yet. We had probably spent more time on some areas than we should have, so we had not done as much work on other areas. They weren't completely empty. They had high-level stuff, core concepts, but they were not laid out. They didn't have maps, they didn't have keys, they didn't have characters, items, dialogue, quests, and stuff like that. It just hadn't been done.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I know that after the fact, when I started looking at some of the stuff that was in a queue to be implemented, that maybe not everything [in the empty areas] had been implemented yet. But I started looking at it, and that was when Jason and I turned into basically dictators of what was Fallout and what wasn't Fallout.

           I wasn't too young. I was in my thirties, but I was very naive about how to manage people, and how to do things. I would look at people's designs and say, "Yeah, this isn't going in the game." I'd give them some direction.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I think Leonard and Jason were ramping down, so they picked it up and did a lot of really cool level-design work. They really saved our butts.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           Eventually I ended up taking over a lot of conversations and that kind of design work because I wanted to do it. I said, "This is the way I want it, so I'll just do it."

           I apologize to those people. I wasn't the best person to work with at the time. That's kind of how it goes. Back in those days, it was very much the wild west in terms of those things.

TIM CAIN

            The art was done, so Leonard and Jason started writing dialogues. They wrote new player responses to put the existing NPC responses in a new context.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I went on vacation after this. I thought we were done. I called Jason when I was back to find out how everything was going. He said, "Remember how empty that one map was?" I'm like, "Yeah?" He said, "The whole game's like that."

TIM CAIN

           I especially remember we had a character who was outside the cathedral of the Children of the Apocalypse, a character who said some odd things. We rewrote what the player said so it gave context to that character. Also, there were at least two characters, both in the Brotherhood of Steel, who have non-VO assistants. We let the guard tell you something totally wrong, like, "Go southeast of here until you find this."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            That was the other thing we found. In the recorded conversations, a specific character was supposed to give you specific information. If you go and talk to [Brotherhood of Steel scribe] Vree, she doesn't give you the information you're supposed to get. She's got an assistant standing very close to her who bitches about what Vree was supposed to be working on when she got sidetracked by other stuff, so [the assistant] tells you the stuff that Vree was supposed to tell you.

           If you go to a lot of the talking-head characters in Fallout, you'll find that they conveniently have an NPC standing next to them who will give you the real story, and will fill in the parts that are missing.

TIM CAIN

           When you go to leave, the assistant is programmed to say, "No, no, they moved their camp. It's now southwest." And you're like, okay! Because what was recorded in VO was incorrect. It was never southeast. We had issues like that.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I came back from vacation, and we became designers. We started writing all this lore, all this dialogue, just filling up the game with content. Luckily, when I wasn't drawing or painting, I had spent most of my childhood reading books, so I did a fairly good imitation of a writer at that point.

Fallout's team was nothing if not democratic. While artists created art and programmers wrote code, everyone was welcome to look for perceived holes in the game’s design and step up to fill them.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            When I started making Fallout, most of my roleplaying [game] experience was in my head. I didn't think about it in terms of stats, I didn't think about it in terms of character building like you would for a pen-and-paper game. I thought more about character building like you would for writing a book, or a movie, or a television show.

           I was way more into stories. I was way more into the narrative aspects of it: the things you could do with characters, and the things you could do with stories.

TIM CAIN

           Tim and Jason did most of the writing because I was doing programming. However, what we ended up doing—we did this informally on Fallout and formally on Arcanum—was, I thought a lot of people would get stuck trying to come up with the basic idea or story element of a quest, so I would often go to a first meeting and say, "Here's what I think the flow should be. Here's how I'd find my way through Brotherhood of Steel: I would sneak my way in." They would go off and [implement] all those things.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            Visually, Fallout is pretty unique. The concept of this 1950s-era world, but set in the future—that was done by the artists. Jason and Leonard were the key proponents of that setting. We stole a lot. We watched City of Lost Children, Mad Max, and all these movies that influenced us, and that we loved. We took inspiration from them. We went in and tried to be as stylized as those movies and those comic books, all the things that we loved and put into our game.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            If you look at a lot of lore in the original Fallout, and even in Arcanum, there aren't a lot of what I called codex-type things. It was told either in first-person, or maybe you'd find a textbook from the era that told you a bunch of things where, once again, it was all in-world, and it left a lot of holes for people to interpret it.

           To me, that makes the world feel more alive. If you give people every bit of information about a setting, that takes something away from the setting. It makes it feel more clinical or sterile. There are a lot of games that do it really well, so I think it's more of a style thing.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            It was mostly a question of, "What can't we do?" versus "What can we do?" It'd be like, "We're limited by this thing. How can we overcome it?"

TIM CAIN

            We didn't have a whole lot of memory or cycles, so we originally wrote a very minimal AI. In fact, I have to laugh these days when people complain about the AI in Fallout 1. They're always complaining about companion AI. We didn't even intend for companions to be in the game. The entire game was created and designed with no companions. And then one of the scripters wanted to have a dog that could follow you around.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            There was another problem with tiles. We used the trick of pre-rendering, cutting up a pre-rendered chunk, and making it fit in our tile system. We used that trick quite a bit to make the game world feel more expansive and less tile-y.

           We also did the same kind of thing when it came to the UI, so that the UI looked like it was a piece of a computer that was decrepit, falling apart, and kind of bandaged back together.

TIM CAIN

            The scripter worked with Jason Anderson to figure out how that could be scripted and done in art. Once they broke down that barrier, all the sudden all the designers wanted to write characters who could become companions, following the player around.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            For me, I like games to have a lot of intriguing things, a lot of interesting lore, but at the same time, the lore could be told by unreliable narrators. Things [facts and details] could conflict within the game so the player, at least to a certain degree, has to make a determination about what happened, or what's true and what isn't true.

            You start off with a certain set of assumptions of how things are going to work. Then, as the game becomes real and not just something you think about, it takes its own direction. You can try to wrestle it into your preconceived notions, or let it evolve into what it's becoming and try to find the fun there.

TIM CAIN

            That's why in Fallout 1, there was no limit to how many characters you could have around. I think at one point you could have five or six people following you around. I say five or six because there's one character, Tandi, who you were supposed to rescue. But if you never took her home, she just hung around at the party and never left. But that was a good example of [the companions] kind of broke the AI.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            You'll come up with some pieces of art that you think are going to tell a story, but if they don't quite do it, you may need to put some lore in, or some dialogue in, that bridges the gap. Or it may work perfectly the way you envisioned it. It's really just a matter of reacting to what you're building.

The clock's ticking.
The clock's ticking.

None of Fallout's writers had formal training in the craft. Their predilections for storytelling coupled with their shared understanding of theme and tone guided content creation. Artificial intelligence, especially in companions that players could recruit to travel alongside them, likewise contributed to storytelling, albeit not always in ways players thought.

TIM CAIN

            It was just pure luck that we ended up with artists who had incredibly great narrative skills. In fact, Leonard spends more of his days overseeing the narrative stuff being done on our game now than artwork. He's a really good artist, but he's a really good writer, too. We wouldn't have known that had we not had that [empty areas] emergency.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            Tim trusted us to do the art; we trusted Tim to do the programming, Tim and Chris Jones and Jesse Reynolds and a couple of other people; and the designers were doing their thing.

            "Yeah, that's all there is [in the Brotherhood of Steel]." We had a design doc that described what was supposed to be happening there. Jason went in and started writing dialogue and text and lore to kind of fill it out. He even had to go so far as to take Maxson's dialogue and cut it up, and restructure how it flowed.

            I ended up having to do that with the Master at the end, but I felt like most of the flow was already there. I just had to fix some problems, and I did a lot of that by rewriting the player's lines. But Jason had to change how the whole conversation flowed to make it say something that it wasn't saying.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            For quest design, we had very high-level stuff already in mind. We knew kind of the overall story, but for a lot of the quests that connected to other areas, we had them fairly early on because we knew the story beats. But when we got to an area and you started designing the area in-depth, we had to create a lot of quests.

TIM CAIN

            We always had this idea of, were people going to try to be good or bad? How will we track that? That turned into the karma meter, which was a very simplistic way of saying, "You did something good? Here, have a positive number," and, "If you did something bad, here's a negative number."

           We had no way to tell the difference in that game between somebody who never did something good or bad, versus somebody who killed a bunch of orphans but then donated a lot of money. We had no way of telling the difference. They were both neutral. But just the addition of that meter, and the player's knowledge that their [actions] were being tracked, that major events in the game added a positive or negative number to that meter, suddenly made them think about what they were doing.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We did have a process where we'd have a spreadsheet to track different quests and the ways they could be solved. We wanted to be sure we had three basic archetypes: speech boy, stealth boy, and combat boy. We wanted to make sure that a player could get through two out of every three quests using those rough archetypes. So it was like, "Hey, in this area, is there enough stuff for a stealth-boy player?" or "Can a speech boy make his way through this area without having to resort to combat?"

           We were constantly checking the work, the quests as we were creating them, against that spreadsheet, and making sure we were in line with the amount of content.

TIM CAIN

            Like, Do I really want to kill everybody in this camp? Do I really want to steal that key from the guy rather than buy it? Because, yeah, buying it takes money, but stealing it may affect karma. Just that knowledge that the game was watching you made some people feel more validated playing a good character.

           At the same time—and this happened in QA and we decided to just go with it—once they realized it was tracking how bad they could be, they wanted to see how bad they could be. They would do horrible things.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            There were a few things I screwed up, that we really didn't get a chance to finish. We had this hidden timer than ran, and I wanted it to have much more of an effect on the world, and for the player to see it.

           But we just never pulled it off, so we took it out in the first patch. We succeeded a lot of times, we failed a lot of times, and sometimes what we did was just okay. But we made that attempt to make a very reactive, very personalized game experience.

TIM CAIN

            The AI was already working, and it worked pretty well against the player. Once we had companions who were trying to shoot the player's enemies, it wasn't as simple. That's what led to, Ian started with an Uzi, which had a spread of bullets, but he didn't check to see if anybody friendly was in that spread. That's why he was always shooting you in the back.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We decided very early on that we would do what we called a "wide game design" versus a "deep game design." There's not a lot of content on any one pass through Fallout. It's a fairly short game. But every time you play it, if you make different decisions, you get radically different outcomes. Depending upon your character and what stats you have, and your reputation, and all this good stuff, you'll get a very different outcome.

           Shortly after Fallout 1 launched, we were reading the message boards, and people were talking about their experiences, saying, "I went here and did this," and somebody else would say, "Wait, no, I went here and did that." They were like, "Well, how'd that happen?" They were just comparing, telling stories, and we loved that. We were so happy to see people react positively to that. It was a very conscious design decision.

TIM CAIN

            The character people liked the most was Dogmeat, because Dogmeat didn't have any area-of-effect attack. He would just run up and bite someone. He was seen as the companion that was the most people, but it was just, "Well, no, the AI worked great for him because that's what it was designed for."

           We had that kind of stuff that was really hard. We just didn't have the memory or the cycles to do anything really complex. That's when I first learned that how people perceived something that wasn't necessarily the truth. People would tell me, "I love Dogmeat because he's so loyal." I'm like, "No. You love Dogmeat because he has no dialogue attached, and because of that, he can never leave the party."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I forget exactly how we started, but intelligence was important for dialogue. We said, "What would happen if someone makes a 1-intelligence character? The game has to react." We started doing the idiot conversations, and they turned out to be the funniest thing.

           I love taking a low-end character, because there's one really dumb super mutant, and you walk up to him and start talking, and the conversation was, "Huh? What? Huh?" That's the whole conversation. As a player, you're like, "What just happened?"

           Those kinds of variations, depending on how you played and what your character was, that was a very conscious decision from very early on. We wanted to react to the player, and have the player feel like they were making meaningful decisions that impacted the world.

TIM CAIN

            Also, "Dogmeat only does melee attacks so he can never hurt you." He would have hurt players as much as Ian or Tycho, he just never had the opportunity to do so. So it was funny to me when people would say, "We loved how you made the dog so loyal." No, we didn't do that. That's just how things shook out.

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Relationships

As enthusiastic as Fallout's team was about their game, few among Interplay’s sales and marketing departments shared in their anticipation. There were too many other games for one to become a focal point. On top of that, post-apocalyptic settings were bizarre and unorthodox. Sword-and-sorcery was all the rage in roleplaying games. When Interplay secured the pinnacle of sword-and-sorcery licenses, developers of Fallout and other RPG projects found themselves fighting for scraps.

TIM CAIN

            We weren't attached to GURPS yet, although we were using it just as a template. [Interplay] picked up the Dungeons & Dragons license, and that was the first time Fallout almost got cancelled.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            They didn't want to give us any more people to work on our game. They thought that [Dungeons & Dragons] was where the money was, so they wanted to switch everyone over to D&D projects. Once again, this is my interpretation of events. I thought it was when they got the Dungeons & Dragons license.

BRIAN FARGO

            D&D was kind of going out of favor. In fact, I think it was [TSR vice president] Lorraine Williams, they wanted to sell TSR to us. I wanted to buy it. I think Universal Studios had invested in the company at that point, and I told them, "We've got to do it." I think it would have been less than $20 million. I said, "Let's do it." They didn't want to, which was a huge shame.

TIM CAIN

            Fargo said, "Hey, we've got this Dungeons & Dragons license. I think I could use your people more effectively on Dungeons & Dragons games." Also, they were worried it would cannibalize sales if we had two RPGs out at the same time. I begged him not to. I told him how excited and committed everybody was, and it would be "out in a few months anyway."

           That was, like, a year and a half before it shipped. I tried to comment on how RPGs don't cannibalize [other RPGs] because they have such long tails. I actually got someone in sales to back me up on that, saying, "Yeah, you can have two RPGs on sale at the time, and they don't cannibalize like, for example, flight simulators." If there are two flight simulators, people will buy one and not the other. But if there are two RPGs, they'll buy one, and then a few weeks later they'll come back and buy the other. Once they finished the first RPG, they say, "I really feel like playing another RPG."

S.P.E.C.I.A.L. has endured in contemporary Fallout titles such as Fallout 4.
S.P.E.C.I.A.L. has endured in contemporary Fallout titles such as Fallout 4.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            There were a lot of off-the-cuff meetings, and I think that's credit to the small team that we had, and the fact that we weren't the primary focus at Interplay at that time, because they got the D&D license and were more interested in Dungeons & Dragons games. While they still supported us and obviously gave us paychecks, we weren't as monitored quite as closely as we had been before the D&D license came on. So, we had a lot of freedom and flexibility.

TIM CAIN

            Also, RPGs didn't feel like they were cutting edge. An RPG that had been out for three or four months didn't feel like it had lost any of its luster, where, if you were playing a shooter or a flight simulator—especially back then when technology was changing so dramatically—one that came out six months later would be dramatically improved from the one that came out earlier, and many players would say, "Eh, I don't want to play the [old] one. I want to play this new one."

BRIAN FARGO

            TSR was not going strong at the time. I'm sure there were other people interested in the license. We certainly weren't the only ones, but I wasn't up against Electronic Arts, or Activision, or any [other big studios]. In fact, I remember after I signed the D&D license, Bruno Bonnell of Infogrames, they were doing great with their Asterix, these licensed cartoon characters in France. Things were very licensed at the time, but more in the lines of mainstream, [cartoons]-on-Saturday-mornings type stuff. Bruno said, "You got the Dungeons & Dragons rights? Ugh. Nicheware for nerds. You'll just never learn."

           That's what he said. He poo-pooed all over the idea. There were people who thought it was too niche and stupid. I don't think I've ever done a product that other people thought was a good idea.

Fallout’s scrappy but committed team plugged along. When Tim Cain expressed need for more developers to speed things along, one of Brian Fargo's best producers rose to the occasion.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I was a producer, and it wasn't until they put me in charge of the RPG division in '96—and Fallout was not immediately a part of that—that's around when Tim [Cain] and I talked, and they really needed support to staff their team up and really have the producer support to get that game done. That's how it became a part of [the RPG division] and how I got involved. I'm a big RPG nerd, and it looked so cool.

BRIAN FARGO

            I think you have to start somewhere in an organization, and you need to be noticed. I think it's a function of getting your foot in the door, and then being able to relate bugs and comments back on products.

           You're able to determine people's sensibilities based on what they report. If they're reporting really insightful things, then that's going to tell you how much they understand the creation process of what we're doing. Anybody who moved up from QA, including Feargus and several other people, showed an aptitude in their ability to have insight into the process of what made a game fun.

To this day, some of Fallout's developers remain convinced that Interplay's acquisition of the Dungeons & Dragons license threatened development of their game. Others are less certain.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I think I was in more of the conversations with Brian, and I don't think so. I mean, if we'd gone six months and the game was in disarray, yes, probably. But Brian didn't just cancel games. There were games that needed to be cancelled, and they didn't, so I think we were far away from that.

BRIAN FARGO

            I remember when we got the Star Trek license, people said, "Why did you get that? It's old." If you think about it, the first [game] Interplay did was 25th Anniversary. The show wasn't even on the air anymore, yet the game was a big success.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            Now, that doesn't mean that Brian couldn't have said some stuff to people suggesting that it get done quickly, and that he didn't want to keep paying for a game that didn't have a license, and that there were people questioning that the game was worthwhile that it didn't have a license—he may have said that stuff to people. But just me knowing Brian and working closely with him, I knew we had quite a runway.

Leonard Boyarsky considered Fallout his baby. Tim Cain was responsible for writing code, but Boyarsky was at the forefront of defining its look and much of its feel. His interest extended to the game’s cinematic introduction, which he knew would be most players’ introduction to the world he and the team had created.

TIM CAIN

            We were making this game, we're all young guys, and we were going over the top with violence. I remember going to Austin to demo the game to Steve, and I remember showing him the flamethrower, which was one of the few area-of-effect weapons that had huge particle effects, and [anyone set on fire] walked around screaming. He laughed.

           I said, "Is that okay for the violence level?" He said, "Yeah! Do more." We were like, "Yeah!"

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            The first thing was, we knew we needed to make an intro. The second thing was, we need to convey as much about the world as we can, but we can't show people up close. We just didn't have the technology. I'm sure there were people who could make really good-looking, 3D models but we weren't those people. And we didn't have the time, also.

           So we said, "What can we do? Oh, we'll put them on a TV set that the camera's pulling back from, before you see any human beings on it." I felt like the intro was very successful at conveying the mood and tone we wanted to convey. Tim wrote the narration, the "War never changes" part, and Jason and I found a bunch of old pictures and put them together to work underneath that.

ROB NESLER

            There were talking heads that needed to be made, so I assisted in gathering the talent for and managing that process. I think they called me the 3D art director, in that I assembled a team of 3D artists to do facial modeling toward the eventual goal of facial animation. That involved some very clever modelers from the entertainment industry as well as the Natural History Museum who were used to modeling in clay.

           The overseer's head was our first, I think. I believe we sculpted that. There was a process for getting those heads made and then digitized. Then those would be given to the team.

TIM CAIN

            Fred Hatch, my assistant producer, was renting a room in my house, and he came home one night and said the next day he was going to meet Ron Perlman to record the opening of Fallout. I was eating dinner and watching Simpsons, and he said, "This is what I've got for Ron Perlman to read." I don't remember what it said, but I didn't like it. He said, "Yeah, I don't really like it either."

           So during the commercial interruption on Simpsons, I wrote the "War. War never changes." That whole opening paragraph: "War never changes, Hitler, China, superpowers... All that stuff, and uranium being used for war and fueling war." All of that was written during The Simpsons.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            We started off with the Vault Boy, and we built it around the ads and some news reports. Jason and I came up with the idea for it in an afternoon. We decided, roughly, "Here's what the shots are going to be." It was really rough. For instance, when I went to do the scene that turned into the execution, it was just supposed to be something about a newsreel like, "Our boys are fighting for peace," or whatever, and you saw a firefight going on.

           I started working on it and decided it was going to be really difficult to show, to make it dramatic and to stage it. I thought about pushing it further, making it ridiculous and over the top. I don't know where the idea came from, but I do know that as soon as I had the idea about a guy being executed, I turned around to Jason and said, "I'm going to have him execute this guy in the middle of the street. What do you think?"

           He turned to me and said, "That's a great idea."

TIM CAIN

            Before Fred, my assistant producer, went to the VO session the next day, I said, "Just have Ron Perlman read both. Read what this guy wrote, and then read what this guy wrote so we can hear him say both, and we'll decide later which one we like best." To put the cherry on the sundae of that story, I was really nervous about what I was going to sound like, and Fred was supposed to leave at four o'clock from the VO studio and drive back down to Irvine; the studio was up in Hollywood.

           He calls me at 3:30 and says, "Hey, Ron Perlman had two tickets to a baseball game up at the LA stadium. Can I go to that? I'll just get this stuff to you tomorrow." I was like, "Yes, but did he say anything about the dialogue?" Fred said, "I can't really talk about it, I need to get to the stadium." This was pre-smartphone; he was calling us from the studio. We had to wait until the next morning to hear what the stuff sounded like.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            While I was animating the execution, I decided I would make them turn to the camera and wave. I go, "Jason, how much will you give me if I make these guys wave at the camera?" He said, "If you do it, I'll give you twenty bucks."

           I don't think he ever paid up, but I might not be remembering this correctly. But we'd do things like that. We'd come up with these ridiculous ideas and kind of dare each other to do them. I said, "Tim's either going to freak out when he sees this, or think it's hilarious." We'd just do things and show them to people after they were done. We didn't get OKs for any of this stuff. We didn't run it by anybody. It was just us sitting in a room going, "This is what it's going to be." As we worked on it, it just became what it was.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had great voice actors. That's one area where we were really fortunate, people whom I had idolized while growing up. Going to those recording sessions and meeting Ron Perlman in real life? I mean... Being present for the birth of my kids is slightly more important than meeting Ron Perlman, but it's close.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I knew I wanted a haunting song for the intro. I didn't know where it came from. Years later I remember, Oh, that's the end of Dr. Strangelove where they're playing We'll Meet Again while bombs are dropping. That's what I was trying to evoke. We were trying to find a song but didn't have any ideas. Gary Platner, an artist, came in one day and said, "I just heard this song that we have to use." It was I Don't Want to Set The World On Fire, by the Ink Spots.

           We couldn't get the rights to that, so we ended up using another of their songs. Fortunately their songs all sound virtually identical. That's no exaggeration: If you listen to their songs, they all sound the same. We ended up with Maybe, which was a stroke of luck. We used it because it sounded like I Don't Want to Set The World On Fire, but it also had what I felt was a haunting sound.

           Years later I saw the trailer for Blade Runner, and they used I Don't Want to Set The World On Fire. I vaguely remember seeing that as a kid and thinking it was pretty cool. Maybe it was really cool because the lyrics of the song could be interpreted as the world is going to miss him when he's gone, so it's an ode to the world that's gone, but it turns out to be an ode from the player saying that to the people in the vault: "You're going to miss me when I'm gone."

           We hadn't worked out the ending at the point we chose that song. It just all fell into place.

TIM CAIN

            I have to admit, the opening turned out pretty well. It's probably the only time I wrote something that people liked. I tried writing for an RPG later, and it's... not well-liked for its writing.

Competing with Dungeons & Dragons was one obstacle on the road to Fallout's completion. Another arose from an unlikely source: A partner who was getting cold feet.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I did the intro with Jason [Anderson], Tramel Isaac, and Sharon Shellman. We'd done this intro that everybody loved. To me, it was this very successful thing. It's still one of the things I'm most proud of that I've ever done. Steve Jackson came down to look at the game, and he did not like the intro. He did not like the '50s [theme]. He really objected to the guy getting executed in the intro. He said everything was too violent.

           We said, "We showed you how we can set people on fire. We don't understand."

TIM CAIN

            He never had any trouble with [violence] until he saw the opening movie. Once he saw the opening movie, which shows a guy with his hands tied behind his back and someone in power armor shoots him, he didn't like that. He didn't like that at all.

            Along with not liking that, a host of other things he didn't like came up.

BRIAN FARGO

            I was the one who dealt with Steve Jackson at the time. He had an issue with the violence in the opening movie, and I said, "Well, gosh, you ain't seen nothin' yet."

CHRIS TAYLOR

           We were going to compromise. We were going to keep it, but during installation, we would let players decide if they wanted violence or not. Based on that toggle, we would show one of two intros: One with the execution scene, one with it censored. At least, that was our proposal.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            The two things he hated were the intro with its '50s vibe, and the Vault Boy, which everybody seemed to really like. Those seemed to be the things people were really keen on, so we were really confused. Push came to shove, and he said, "GURPS is my product. I'm not going to let [Fallout ship like this]. Changes have to be made."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had been showing the game to Steve Jackson. We had brought him out to meet the team. We took him out to a nice restaurant at Disneyland. We played games with him. As far as I knew, we had a good relationship. So, it was really a bummer when Tim Cain called me into his office, and he had a letter from Steve Jackson Games.

            It was twenty-four items long, something like that. Twenty-two items. All these changes they wanted to see. All of them except for two of them, the entire team was behind: "Oh, sure, we'll change that, and that, and that, no problem." But two of them were, like, "Well, we're not sure about this." One was the intro scene.

            The other item was, you know in Fallout, there's a card for all the stats and skills? Well... I'm trying to describe this nicely because to this day I'm still blown away by it.

TIM CAIN

            He had never said a word about it, but all the sudden he didn't like any of the skill cards with the Vault Boy on them. That's now an iconic, beloved cartoon character. He didn't like those; he wanted them removed. We had already done hundreds of them. They were on every skill card. A skill, trade, attribute—anything in the game we'd made a card for, had a matching [Vault Boy] cartoon. We'd put a lot of work into it.

            Also, it was not polarizing. We had shown it to people. We had our own QA group, but there were probably thirty or forty other QA people [at Interplay], and we exposed them to it. We said, "Hey, what do you guys think of this?" We asked them to look at the whole game and tell us what they liked and didn't like. That character of the Vault Boy was universally liked. I didn't know what to do.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had the character illustrated there, and Vault Boy was kind of our take on the Monopoly character, and he was universally loved on the team. We had an artist, Tramel Ray [Isaac]. We sat down and gave him descriptions of all these cards, and then he ran off and made these illustrations, which we all loved. We thought it was a great bit of character to the game and added a lot to it. But for whatever reason, Steve Jackson did not like that art. He did not like that character.

            We were like, "Well, it doesn't have anything to do with GURPS. It's really about the setting and helping to sell the setting." So, we pushed back. The next thing I know—and this is from my perspective; I wasn't [in the meeting]—but when we pushed back a little bit, he said, "Well, then you're not going to ship the game. I'm referring to our contract, and we're not going to give you permission to ship the game."

TIM CAIN

            I was talking to Steve a lot, just over email, about, "Hey, we really want to keep this. We'll talk about what we can do for the [intro] movie, but we really want to keep Vault Boy." I forget what happened, but, basically, back and forth in the exchange, Steve said something about his legal rights and him having to talk to his lawyer.

           As soon as he did that, I was told that was my trigger word: Once he did that, it was out of my hands. I had to escalate it above me. I did.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            It just kind of spun out of control. From my perspective, one day we're all talking about Vault Boy and how much we love it, and we wanted to let Steve Jackson know, "Hey, we'll fix all this other stuff, but we want to keep Vault Boy." And the next day, the license is being pulled. I mean, it was like overnight.

            One day, we got pulled in and told, "We're not GURPS anymore." What? No. This is terrible. This is horrible."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            There were a few places along the way where we almost got cancelled, and that was one of them. A lot of companies would have been, "Well, this is a partner we're working with. Make the changes."

           But Brian liked what we were doing, too, so he stood up for us. He said, "No, we're not making those changes. We're going to remove GURPS."

TIM CAIN

            It went up to Feargus, and then up to Fargo. The next thing I know, they're asking me how hard it would be to remove GURPS from the game.

BRIAN FARGO

            I told Steve that we're going to have to sever the contract, because he wasn't going to like the product. I was part of that decision to remove the GURPS system. All those guys are super bright. I knew they'd come up with something good. But the most important thing was to keep the integrity for what they were building. They had a wonderful vision and execution for Fallout, and I didn't want to see it compromised.

TIM CAIN

            Since GURPS was the first thing I'd written, it was contained in separate modules that could be plugged into the game. The way the game worked was, you could point your gun at somebody, and it would go, "Hey, this guy holding this gun, at this rotation, from this far away from that character, with these values—what's the percentage chance to hit him?" And it would go off into a little module that returned the answer.

           I said, "It's pretty easy. It [GURPS] already is disconnected. I just have to invent something new and connect." They said, "What if Chris Taylor invented the new thing, and you coded it?" I was like, "That would take a few weeks." The next thing I know, we weren't using GURPS anymore.

BRIAN FARGO

           Sometimes when you do licensed products, whether it's Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, or whatever, and I've done a lot of them, oftentimes the licensor is great. But sometimes, they're not so great, and they try to make you do stuff that you know gamers will absolutely hate. In the same way, we knew what our audience wanted. We knew what we wanted. We didn't want a licensor dictating the sensibility of Fallout.

FEARGUS URQUHART

           I hadn't played GURPS at that point, and I thought that was a cool aspect of it, but I think Fallout is what it is because we had to walk away from the GURPS license. It was obvious it had something special... Oh, of course. "S.P.E.C.I.A.L."

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I'm pretty sure [production assistant] Jason Suinn came up with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. acronym. The one I saw immediately was ACELIPS.

The flexibility of Tim Cain’s engine made its modules easy to replace. The trouble, Cain knew, was finding an equally pliable set of game rules with which to replace GURPS. One of his designers just happened to have some lying around.

TIM CAIN

            Now, my understanding was we were going to make a GURPS game later, but that just never happened. We started the contract for making a GURPS game at Interplay, but what I was told was Fallout was no longer going to be a GURPS game. We weren't contractually to make Fallout a GURPS game; we were just contractually obligated to make a GURPS game. So, I was told, "Rip everything GURPS out and replace it."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We had a meeting about what we wanted to do. Now, all game designers fall out of love with D&D at one point or another, and they make their own roleplaying game. I had done this in middle school. I had made an RPG on paper called Medieval—which is a terrible name, and I'm embarrassed to say it out loud after all these years—and it had all the stats that are in S.P.E.C.I.A.L., even though we weren't calling it S.P.E.C.I.A.L. at the time; it had all of S.P.E.C.I.A.L.'s core mechanics; it had a lot of those elements.

           It wasn't complete. It wasn't an exact copy. But all the stats were there, and how it fundamentally worked was pretty solid. I had run games with this. I was very used to it. It was my system, so I had an answer for any question about it.

TIM CAIN

            Chris Taylor, in just a few days, made what's now the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. But he didn't have Luck. I wanted Luck in there. And he didn't have Perks. Brian Fargo said, "There's not enough stuff for me to buy when I go up a level." Chris said, "I could put something like perks in," so we threw that stuff in along with the traits, because I wanted something that had negative [characteristics] in addition to positive.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I told Tim, "I could port this over." It took about two weeks, I think, of design work to go from my old home-brew system to what would become S.P.E.C.I.A.L.. I wrote up a document and took the system into Tim. Within ten or fifteen seconds, he goes, "Oh. S.P.E.C.I.A.L.."

           He had noticed the first letters of the stats, anagrammed them and reordered them, and called it S.P.E.C.I.A.L.. The name stuck right then and there. We tuned it, and tweaked it, and within a few weeks, he had the system up and running. Within a few weeks, the game was no longer GURPS. It was Fallout. I never would have caught that, not within a million years, and Tim Cain saw it within seconds.

Like Fallout’s intro, camera angle, and gritty setting, the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system flowed naturally from Fallout’s design, almost as if it had been there since the beginning.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I use this term I learned in school: found objects. There's a lot of 3D pop art, or post-modern sculpture, that uses found objects. I thought a lot of that was just silliness posed as art, but I liked the idea of found things informing your art. That was my mantra on Fallout: Everything should look like it's a part of the game [world]. The interface should look like it's an object you would find in the game. Even the manual looked like propaganda; maps looked like they were found inside the game world. The manual was a vault dweller's survival guide.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I get a smile on my face just thinking about it, because now it's integral to the system and to the franchise. The first time I played Bethesda's Fallout 3 and they brought up the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system screen, I got all giggle-y, just because it was so cool to see it again.

TIM CAIN

            What's interesting is I bet you Fallout is the only RPG where the underlying system was made after the majority of the content. The reason it feels like it ties in so well [thematically] is, we literally looked at all our content and said, "What kind of queries do we need to make [in code] to make all this stuff work?"

           We had things like, we some kind of agility and dexterity stat; we need to know if you're doing bonus damage; we need some kind of strength. So it kind of informed the system. It was interesting how that worked. I would never, ever want to make an RPG like that again, though.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            For me, I wasn't thinking much about story. I think it was in the back of my mind, but it was more about setting. It was more that everywhere you turned, I wanted to reinforce the feeling of this nostalgic, 1950s future.

TIM CAIN

           It went through the same module interface, but it wasn't GURPS anymore. It took about two weeks, maybe three, and we had it all back up and running. Six months later, Fallout shipped.

Out of the Vault

Fallout’s story grants Vault Dwellers five months to scrounge up a water chip and save their people from dying of thirst. Interplay’s developers had significantly more time to build their post-apocalyptic sandbox, yet the finish line always seemed to dance just out of range.

SCOTT EVERTS

            One thing about Interplay was there was a point where everyone realized, "Oh my god, we have to ship this. It's time to get it done." There was something someone said, and I don't remember who said it: "A game is never done; it just ships." That's true, always. There's a point where you just have to get it done.

TIM CAIN

            By the end of that game, we were all so frazzled that trying to remember things that happened in those last few months was hard. We were already working Saturdays. Almost everybody there worked Monday through Saturday. In the last six months, when we decided we had to crunch, it just meant, "Well, I guess the only other thing we can do is come in on Sundays."

SCOTT EVERTS

            I had known Chris Taylor forever. We still hang out together; we play board games almost every weekend. There were an awful lot of late nights. We'd go over to Denny's or Polly's Pies, and we'd sit around and talk about the game. He'd bounce ideas off of me and that sort of thing.

           That was something different about that era. Interplay was a little like high school: There was always someone around the office. We'd be there at all times of day and night, especially in the early years. People just lived there. That changed as Interplay got bigger. People started to have families and actually want to spend time away from work. If we weren't working on a project, we were sitting there playing video games, or tabletop RPGs, or board games. We were always doing something at the office. As projects got really busy, instead of playing games after hours, we spent that time working on a game. We were a lot younger and had more energy.

TIM CAIN

            For a lot of people, it was fourteen-hour days Monday through Saturday, and an eight-hour day on Sunday. I remember every week amounted to a week and a half of work. So, every two weeks we'd done three weeks' worth of work. It was crazy. There were people who weren't doing laundry.

           It was gross. The janitorial people were asking us when they could clean the offices. She said, "You're always at your desk. No matter when we clean, you're at that desk. We've tried coming in early in the morning and you're at the desk. We came in late, around eleven p.m., and you were at the desk. When do we get to clean your office?" I said, "Just come in and clean. Clean around me."

SCOTT EVERTS

            They bought me a Jaz drive. I used to work one day a week at home. Interplay was very crazy, and there were lots of distractions, so they used to let me work one day a week at home. I'd copy the game onto a Jaz disk, take it home, and then I'd work the next day at home and get a lot more work done.

TIM CAIN

            It was strange. It's something you can only do during a certain period of your life. It's something I've never done before or since, but I literally lived at Interplay for a few months, only going home for a few hours' sleep. I'd gotten a dog. I adopted a greyhound, so I just started bringing him into the office. He'd run around really fast, and we were just working.

           It was like a little clubhouse of sleep-deprived, slightly insane people.

Collaboration between developers, united in their excitement for the game, lightened the load of crunch hours.

SCOTT EVERTS

            If something looked fine to the designer, then it was fine. Sometimes a designer would say, "We're going to move this character to this room, and this new room should be where his desk is, and the old room will be storage." We might move props around, but otherwise I don't remember there being a lot of revision. We had a very tight schedule. As long as I hit on [a layout] that worked, they could work with it.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I really like the way The Glow map turned out. There's some good background material there, some tapes you can find that give you a better sense of the world.

SCOTT EVERTS

            A lot of times designers will do a block out and [the artist will say], "I can work with that." But when you're laying out the level, you may think, This building doesn't make sense here, so you go talk to the designer and ask if there's any way you can shift one building there and one over here.

TIM CAIN

            I remember Leonard, even at the time, one reason he wanted to do it was because early 3D tools like Lightwave and 3D Studio made it easy to make shiny, plastic-y things, but it was very hard to make. So, partially to challenge themselves, they wanted to learn how to do that. But once we picked post-apocalyptic, they had to do it. I think they liked the challenge of it, even though there were many nights when they were swearing.

SCOTT EVERTS

           If you're not talking to the designer, you can get in trouble: Communication is important so you don't waste time. No one wants to work for a whole day only to find out there's a problem and everybody has to revert. You're always going to have revision, but you can minimize it if you talk with your team.

TIM CAIN

           There's even a quote from Jason in the quotes [dialogue] file going, "It's really hard to render dirt," because he was trying to come up with dirt for ground, and it had to be 3D-rendered from the same perspective and angle as everything else, and he was having trouble making it look like dirt and not brown plastic.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I also was the one who did all of the art elements for the Fallout 1 website.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I had designed the old, Fallout website. I did the HTML for it, and worked with Scott [Everts] to do the graphic design.

SCOTT EVERTS

           We put that website together, mostly just the two of us. If you ever find the Wayback version of the Fallout 1 website, all of those elements were made by Chris and me, because back then we didn't have a website team. It was still early days, but we wanted one.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I was running the forums and reading as people talked about it. Every time we posted new images or tidbits from the game, we were already getting a fan base, which, for the time, that was kind of new. This was the early days of the Internet.

           The feedback we'd gotten from people around the company was good. We played the game a lot ourselves, and we knew it was good. I don't think anyone expected it to be this huge franchise twenty years on.

Shared belief in Fallout spurred its creators to longer and longer hours. All they lacked was the support of the company that would be putting its name on the game's box. To earn it, they had to go right to the top of Interplay’s food chain.

TIM CAIN

            Toward the end, nobody wanted to be the one whose area was lagging. You might finish what you were doing, like, I might finish the code I wanted to do on a given day, but then I look over, and I'm like, "Hey, these companions aren't working right." I'd open up the script, notice they're not done, and I'd just start scripting. Even though we had scripters to do that, they were busy doing other things, so it was like, well, I guess I'll stay for an extra three or four hours [and work on] the script.

           If an artist found a way of touching up dialogue, or a designer noticed there was something off about a mouse cursor, they'd just fix it. You'd just open it up and fix it yourself if it was too minor to bother tracking someone down.

SCOTT EVERTS

            At the time, it was just another project. It was a cool project, certainly much better than Shadoan, which was a fun one to work on, but it sold terribly. Stonekeep was good, a decent seller. As we were working on Fallout, none of us thought it would become a classic, but we got an inkling that it was a good game when we let other people play it.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            He liked what we were doing when he saw it, and he was very much behind us after he saw it. Nothing against Brian or anybody else at Interplay, but at the time, no one really thought much about Fallout. I'm glad they let us do it. Brian gave us the money and let us do whatever we wanted to do. I don't think that was their intent, but that's how it ended up, because they started going all-hands-on-deck when they started doing D&D games.

           We were just this little project that was quirky and funny, but, whatever, let Tim and his little group do their thing. Which is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. I'd have thought they would have just cancelled us, but they didn't, so we got to be in our little corner doing whatever we wanted.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I think everyone was very focused on the Dungeons & Dragons titles. I don't think we were slighted. I don't think we were looked down on; I just think they were busy with other stuff. I mean, the Fallout 1 manual? No other game got a manual like that at Interplay. Our support team there came through and gave us a graphic designer, a manual-layout guy for way, way too long. We got to put all this stuff into the manual. We got to [have design input] on the box.

           I think the more difficult thing was, they didn't know exactly how to sell Fallout. It had this unique look. It wasn't a conventional, post-apocalyptic game, even though there weren't a lot of those types of games out at the time. I do think that having Brian play the game and get behind it helped. When the boss of the company says, "This is a great game," that's not going to hurt.

TIM CAIN

            It was weird. Leonard liked to think, Wow, we've done something amazing, here. My only memory was, we were thought to be the B team pretty much throughout the entire development of Fallout. Then, a few months before we shipped, Brian Fargo took it home with him. He played it all weekend, and he called me all weekend at work, saying, "I'm stuck here, what do I do?"

           On Monday he said, "This is amazing. This is the thing. This is the thing that's going to be our next kickass project."

ERIC DeMILT

            One of the endearing things about Brian is that he is, at his heart, a gamer. He made choices for his business that I wouldn't make, but at the same time, he digs games. You can talk to the guy about games, and he's just into them. He's super insightful. I think having him like Fallout caused other parts of Interplay, which were maybe a bit more dismissive, helped them get behind it.

BRIAN FARGO

            It wasn't like I came on at the very end and said, "Oh my gosh!" Everything that was being built, I was financing, so there were no surprises. However, I think that the things that intrigued me were the same things that intrigued me about Wasteland. When we sat down to do Fallout, we went through and analyzed all the things that we thought made Wasteland resonate.

           Those were meaningful cause and effect, a bleak universe, morally gray areas. To me, it was all of those things. So, when I did play it, they hit on all those points that we agreed were important.

SCOTT EVERTS

           When Brian Fargo played it, he kept saying, "Wow, this game is really good." That's when we started thinking that this game could be a hit, but marketing really didn't care at the time. We had the box on the website, and were doing all this stuff that normally the marketing and sales staff would do, but we did it because they didn't really care that much. We had a lot more passion for the project than they did.

TIM DONLEY

            Brian Fargo was a genius in a lot of ways. He had these insane Christmas parties where he'd get these crazy bands. I don't want to say he'd get something like Aerosmith, but they'd be incredible because the Christmas parties were so over-the-top. We'd go see movies. Everybody loved staying late. Everybody wanted to be there.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            Jason and I made the decision, with Tim's blessing, to put "Brian Fargo Presents" at the beginning of Fallout's intro. As far as we were concerned, he let us make this. He provided the money and he provided the space for us to make this game.

TIM CAIN

            When Brian first saw it, he said, "Oh, just take my name off that." I was like, "Brian, you gave us three years and three million dollars. I think your name can be on it."

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I did kill Brian in one of our demos.

TIM CAIN

           When I look back, he didn't know who I was. I was just some guy who had made Rags to Riches and Bard's Tale Construction Set. That's all I'd made there. And then I made a bunch of installers and did sound code and stuff like that. But he just ran with this engine I was putting together. I assembled this team of artists and designers, and he just let us run with it. I find it hard to believe that that would happen today.

BRIAN FARGO

            It sounds simple, but it's not. A lot of times you'll agree on what the [attractions] of a game are supposed to be, and then they go sideways. There's a constant herding of cats to keep everybody on point. Or, for example, you could say, "We're going to do a comedy." If all the jokes aren't funny, you're not making a comedy anymore. You're making something else.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            I had designed one of the cities, and there was a manhole cover. Just because I'm a goofy kind of guy, I decided, "To lift up this manhole cover, you need to make a strength check." If you critically failed that strength check—if you rolled a 1 on a d20, effectively—you'd take some damage, maybe one point. Well, of course, Brian's playing this demo area for the first time, and he gets into a fight with some ghouls.

           He gets down to one health, and I tell him, "You need to pick up this manhole cover to go down into the sewers," and he gets the critical failure. It takes one point of damage, and he falls over.

           He looks at me and goes, "That's not fun." I said, "Well... to you, it wasn't. Me, I found it frickin' hilarious."

TIM CAIN

           I can't imagine working at a company where they said, "You guys should just work on something. We don't have a contract with anyone. We're just going to let you do it. We're just going to pay you to basically do R&D." That was amazing.

Brian Fargo wheels and deals to pitch Wasteland 2.
Brian Fargo wheels and deals to pitch Wasteland 2.

CHRIS TAYLOR

           But, yeah, we took that out. We wouldn't do that type of content. Even I found it silly, goofy fun, but a player might not. Brian brought up a good point. Oh, and this was in a roomful of people. I killed Brian Fargo in front of a crowd.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

           Luckily, by the time Brian actually saw it, it was [cohesive enough] that he could understand what we were doing. Even then, some people might have said, "No, this is too weird and different." I think [Fallout moved ahead] because they really didn't care; they thought Fallout wouldn't turn out to be much of anything, but it was so far along.

           That's my interpretation. You'd have to ask them what they were thinking. Our interpretation at the time was that they didn't care. But they let us make the game.

BRIAN FARGO

            I think that was what was unique about Interplay: I was playing the games, and I was the CEO, so I could force my will upon sales and marketing people who don't play games, and who are looking for completely different [reasons] for why it would sell. Maybe they're looking at a category or a genre, as opposed to, "This is a great game, and people are going to love it." That was my secret sauce.

On October 9, 1997, Fallout hit store shelves like a nuclear bomb. The game rocketed up sales charts, selling over 53,000 units in just two months. Interplay more than doubled that number over the next year. Critics and consumers praised it for its combination of artwork, tactical combat, puzzles, unique characters, and deep storytelling. Fallout’s developers, particularly those who were there for those early pizza meetings, look back on it both fondly and critically.

LEONARD BOYARSKY

            I remember being very happy with it, and feeling like we had succeeded. I was naive and optimistic at that point, and less critical. It was our first game, so it was, "Wow, we did it! We made it!"

           Jason was more critical of it. He was very much of the opinion that there were things we could have done better. Looking back on it, he was 100 percent correct. I was just fired up that we had this thing that was something we made, and it was done and going to come out. I was jokingly saying, "People are going to think this is the greatest thing ever." It took a long time, I think, for [that to happen]. There were people who liked it right away, but it was very much a cult hit until Bethesda took it over. But I was ridiculously optimistic about how much people would love it.

           I'd say in my whole career, it's probably the only game where once it was done, I was like, "Yes, this is this awesome thing that we set out to make." I think half of that is rose-colored glasses: Me not looking at what it could have been and the things we could have done with it. I was just so proud of what we had done.

CHRIS TAYLOR

            We hadn't gone into it with the intention of building a franchise. To build a great game? Tell a great story? Yeah, we had a pretty good idea [it would be successful]. I loved the art. I loved the music. I thought it was a quality package: having that box and that manual, and it looked good on the shelf. It was a good-looking game, and it played really well.

           But even then, the reaction was surprising. So many people said positive things about it. Now, it didn't really take off until Fallout 2 came out. I think the reaction to that was even bigger than Fallout 1. But it was really gratifying to see passionate fans and hear them talk, and for them to get upset and angry when we changed things. That meant they had passion. I got some really nasty emails from fans a few times over the years, and I'd have to just go, "Well, at least they're passionate. At least they care about it."

           I've released a couple of games that just sunk, and that's a terrible feeling. You work years on a game, put heart and soul into it, and of course you want a good reaction to it.

SCOTT EVERTS

           I played the first one... I don't know how many times. When we were trying to do Van Buren [code name for Interplay's Fallout 3], before it got cancelled, I played Fallout again just to get back into the mentality of that game. It was fun to play again.

           It was the theme that was interesting. It was very open-ended. That just kind of clicked with people. I've always wondered, if we ever finished Van Buren, if we'd had the ability to finish it—which was much closer to Fallout 1 and 2, except it was 3D—I don't think it would have reached the success of Fallout 3, New Vegas, or 4, just because it was too niche.

           I think first-person games, that's where [Fallout 3] welcomed a new audience. I always recommend playing 1 first, because 2 is so much bigger and more involved. Fallout 1 will give you a nice introduction [to classic Fallout titles]: it's shorter, and will give you a good taste of how it all started.

TIM CAIN

           I remember thinking, Wow, maybe we've really made something. But literally, as soon as Fallout shipped, I was thinking, What do I want to do now? I wasn't planning to do Fallout 2. A team got assigned to it. Fred Hatch, the assistant producer, was going to lead it. We were already thinking about what our next project should be. It didn't occur to me to work on another Fallout. It was, Now we can do something else.

           I'm tickled pink that it took off like it did, but at the time it was just one of those things: We did it, it was super fun [to make], now what are we going to do?

Foundations

Almost overnight, Fallout went from the black sheep of Interplay’s catalog to one of its most prized intellectual properties. Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason Anderson were ready to break ground on a sequel. They foresaw the process going more smoothly: This time, they would be building on a foundation rather than creating everything from scratch.

Interplay was also primed to thrive. The company had split into separate divisions, with each department focused on specific types of games—sports, roleplaying games—and sharing the resources of internal marketing and sales teams. Dragonplay, the division centered on roleplaying games, was led by Feargus Urquhart, who changed its name to Black Isle Studios. The nascent Fallout 2 team set up camp as part of Black Isle, with Interplay happily acting as publisher. This time around, Interplay threw its weight behind Fallout’s sequel. That support turned out to be a curse instead of a blessing.

SCOTT EVERTS

            After Fallout, marketing and sales took a big interest in the sequel. I really got the impression that they could not have cared less while we were working on Fallout, but after initial sales, it was finding critical success. They got involved in the box art, the website, all this stuff that they didn't care about before.

TIM CAIN

            I'm looking back on Fallout with a twenty-five-year perspective. But at the time, I found myself angry that people who I'd never seen before were suddenly coming into my office and saying, "Hey, this is what your boss is going to look like," or, "You have to put a tutorial in, and it's got to be this long, and it can't be skippable." I was like, what?

           We went from being the project no one cared about, and no one gave us any direction, to suddenly being in the spotlight. It wasn't fun. It went from something that was a labor of love, to something that became labor.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            The black-and-white answer is yes, there was more oversight, because Interplay was a bigger company. We were selling hundreds of thousands of units rather than tens of thousands. Budgets were, instead of $250,000, around $2 million, so there were just going to be more people involved.

Increased scrutiny plagued Interplay. In early 1998, deep in debt and desperate to avoid bankruptcy, Brian Fargo held an initial public offering that brought in enough capital to pay off some debt. Interplay Productions became Interplay Entertainment Corp., but excitement for the company’s growth could not hide its financial woes. To some, the swarm of investors who had helped saved Interplay were more interested in bottom lines than in turning out great products.

TIM CAIN

            I told you I was employee forty-two. When I left, there were over 600 people there. And some of them were amazing, but some of them, that "By Gamers, For Gamers" label did not apply to. At all. They weren't gamers. They didn't play games. They didn't care about games. It's really hard to get excited when you're working with people like that.

BRIAN FARGO

            I did my best. I think it was more that we were having financial problems as opposed to [problems stemming from] being public. That was putting pressure on everybody. Coincidentally, we had gone public, and I can see where [problems] could be perceived from that.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            As a whole, we did need to get better at making games. A part of that process was evaluating and coming up with some more processes. So, there was more process, but not crazy amounts; there just needed to be more. Marketing and PR were getting more involved in things. That didn't mean they were getting their way on everything, but they were getting more involved.

BRIAN FARGO

            If you were to ask me what the biggest mistake I made was, it was that I tried to take on too much. That was, to some degree, Interplay as a victim of our own success.

           Universal Studios came in and put ten million dollars into the company. When they did that back in, what, '94 or '95, that was a lot of money. By the end of the decade, that was nothing. That was the cost of developing one console game: the marketing budget, the manufacturing budget. But back [in the mid-'90s], it hadn't got to those heights. I think Descent cost $400,000, so ten million felt like a lot.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            There was an early product review meeting for Fallout 2 in which marketing was really pushing for the game to be—and this will sound silly nowadays—that, Fallout 1 was a 256-color game, and the new thing at the time was 16-bit color. That's what marketing wanted.

           They said, "It would play better if we could make it 16-bit," and I just sort of sat there with big, wide eyes. [Converting to 16-bit] would mean reprocessing every piece of art in the game, dealing with the memory footprint—a whole lot of crap.

BRIAN FARGO

            We had tried some experimentation, most of which worked. We said, "Let's try educational," and did Mario Teaches Typing. It was a huge success, so, okay, let's do more educational [products]. "Hey, let's do some sports." We did Virtual Pool—another huge success, so let's go do some more. Let's do roleplaying. Right on down the line, everything we tried worked... initially.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            That's where I give Brian a lot of credit. Brian stepped in and said, "No. The game looks good. The sequel's going to come out very quickly, and even if it wasn't, what is the benefit other than a bullet point?" And I don't think marketing had an answer to that.

BRIAN FARGO

           We kicked off all these divisions, and then all the sudden, none of them worked across the board. Mario's Game Gallery didn't do that well, Learn to Program, all these crazy educational titles that were high quality, but they just weren't selling. Across the board, most of the initiatives didn't work.

            That's why the [Black Isle Studios] folks became more important later on. So, we were profitable every single year, and Universal was putting money into us, saying, "We want to be the next EA. We want to grow this company. What are you going to do with this money?" We invested it, and it went very quickly.

Arcanum, by Troika Games.

TIM CAIN

            It boiled down to, there was really no way to make Fallout 2's development like Fallout's. We tried. We tried to Fargo, we talked to Feargus. We had lots of meeting about how we could try to put that lightning back in a bottle, but there was really no way to do it.

           It turned into a franchise. It had gone from being a fun project that no one paid attention to, to a franchise. That wasn't what we'd wanted to do. We didn't sign up to make a franchise. We did a design for Fallout 2, because the original one got thrown out, and stayed for about three or four months while it got started.

BRIAN FARGO

            The irony was that we made money every year we were in business, up until we went public. Then everything hit the fan. I was scrambling. I was spending very little of my time in development. I was constantly trying to save the company. It was putting a lot of pressure on people. But despite the fact that we had lots of guns at our heads, we had Sacrifice, Giants [Citizen Kabuto], Baldur’s Gate II. There were great things coming out of Interplay all the way to the end, despite the fact we were under pressure, and that we had been capitalized.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I do understand what Tim and Leonard are saying, but on the other side, I think they had gotten a taste of doing something their way, and they wanted more of it. That's not bad at all. I think it's admirable. It's awesome, actually, for them to identify that they wanted to do more and be in charge more, and the best way they could do that was to do their own thing. I think that's awesome.

           There was a conversation with Brian in his office. You realize some things at junctures in your life and career where you're like, this is a juncture, and I don't think Tim and Leonard understood at the time that they'd come to a juncture. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn't.

Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and Jason Anderson held several meetings with Brian Fargo to express their unhappiness with Interplay’s direction. The trio pointed to specific grievances. When Boyarsky and the artists drew up artwork for the game’s box, marketers ignored it and drafted their own. Executives in the U.K. branch of Interplay dictated that children could not be harmed in Fallout 2. Cain, Boyarsky, and Anderson weren’t looking to torture any virtual kids, but children had existed in their post-apocalyptic setting, and life for them should be depicted as unpleasant for them as it was for adults.

Meetings continued through July 1997, when Fallout was just three months away from its projected release date . That month, Cain recommended to Feargus Urquhart that Fred Hatch, one of his producers, should be promoted to associate producer on the game. Cain claimed that Urquhart did not process his request, but admitted that Urquhart did test Hatch to evaluate whether or not he was fit to helm Fallout 2. According to Cain, Hatch’s designs came up short of the lofty expectations of a Fallout sequel. Urquhart informed Cain that he would not force him to make the game, but Hatch would not be promoted, nor would he lead the project.

Cain kept working and taking meetings with Fargo. Sometimes Urquhart, who Cain wanted present at the meetings, joined in. Other times he did not, either because he did not know about them, or because he chose not to attend.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            We had this conversation about compensation. It was about how they could be better compensated for making products that made a lot of money and things like that. Brian's an awesome salesman. He presented something, and Tim and Leonard tacitly agreed. They said, "Yeah, that sounds pretty good," and everybody was about to get up and leave.

           I said, "Everybody, stop."

BRIAN FARGO

            At first, they were going to go, and then they decided to stay, and then they decided to go. They just wanted to do their own thing.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I said, "Tim and Leonard, just so you know, what Brian is going to take from what you just said is that while some tweaking could be done to the topics we just talked about, this is the [outcome], and you have said 'yes' to that. If you leave, because you guys feel this is just a conversation, know that that is not how Brian is taking it."

           I said, "Brian, sorry I'm talking for you, but is that correct?" He said, "Oh, yeah, absolutely." And they said, "Oh. Well, yeah, I mean...”

           We had that conversation, and I think at that point, Tim and Leonard were already looking at different opportunities and wanted to do different things, and they wanted to get out from under Interplay. I think that's when that road really started in my brain: We were looking at a possibility of them leaving. The next thing I knew about that situation was them quitting.

TIM CAIN

            I remember thinking, Okay, you guys love this game? You make something. I want to go do something else.

Fallout 2’s launch date slipped. That Thanksgiving, Cain let Urquhart know he was thinking of leaving Interplay. A month later, he went to Fargo and announced that he would be leaving the company. Boyarsky and Anderson had confided in Cain that they had no interest in making Fallout 2 without him and, unbeknownst to Fargo, planned to leave with him. Fargo talked Cain into staying a while longer. Cain’s issues persisted until in January 1998, when he followed through on his gut instinct to leave. Boyarsky and Anderson followed him out the door, and the three went out to co-found Troika Games.

Fargo and Urquhart recognized the significance of Cain, Boyarsky, and Anderson leaving Interplay and Black Isle. The trio had created one of Interplay’s most successful games, and could make or break the sequel.

BRIAN FARGO

            I was very concerned. I tried very hard to get them to stay. Very, very, very hard.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I didn't talk to them about staying because, maybe I have a weird philosophy, but when people come and quit—and we still do this at Obsidian—I always explain, "Look, maybe you're finding it weird that I'm not asking you to stay, but you must have spent days, weeks, whatever, thinking about this and deciding that it's the best decision for you, so it's not my place to get you to stay."

           I do say, "If there's something very specific about why you're leaving, I wish we could talk about it, but in general, if you've made a decision, I support you in that decision." It was the same with them.

BRIAN FARGO

           We were fortunate that Fallout 2 was well-entrenched for what kind of game it was. Coming up with the first [entry in a franchise] is the hardest, in my opinion. Fortunately, the team that was still there, they picked up the slack and they did a wonderful job.

Interplay management did not make a fuss over the Fallout creators’ departure. One day they were at the office, and the next they were gone. Many of the game’s developers had no clue their managers had even been thinking of leaving and were blindsided by the news.

ERIC DeMILT

            I heard the same way ninety percent of Interplay probably found out, an oh-my-god-rumor-mill sort of thing. Everybody was sitting around talking to each other, like, "Oh my god, what happened?"

CHRIS AVELLONE [designer, Black Isle Studios; co-founder, Obsidian Entertainment]

            I wasn’t aware of the CEO, division director, and team’s issues regarding Fallout 2. In fact, all we heard were a number of stories about what had happened that later turned out to be untrue.

ERIC DeMILT

            You had the official company line, and Fargo was pissed, and Ferg was dealing with it. Then you had a couple of different rumor mills going about how it went down and why, stuff like that. Because Tim and I were friends, I don't think it hit me as a surprise. Like, "How are you not happy here at Shangri-La?"

SCOTT EVERTS

            I was surprised. I didn't see it coming. It was a little depressing, but Feargus was really good. He said, "Okay, guys, let's get through this and move forward."

            I've known those guys for a long time. I hung out with them after they moved on from Interplay. A bunch of them are here [at Obsidian] now. But at the time, it was surprising. It felt like the people who had created Fallout were just gone.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            Their departures changed the nature of Fallout 2. This happens whenever someone else pours a foundation for a game and then it gets transferred: You miss all the reasons for why the foundation and certain set-ups were placed the way they were.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            With Tim and Leonard leaving, there was suddenly a vacuum of who would be over to run the game. Someone had to step in, so I stepped in as lead designer.

ERIC DeMILT

            I was one of the producers on Fallout 2. Fearg and I co-produced it. I did the first half of the game, and he handled the second half, just because we were on such a tight timeframe. When Tim, Leonard, and Jason resigned, Tim went to Feargus and asked that I be put in charge as producer.

           That was super cool. I'm a huge fan of Tim's, and it meant a ton to me that he would want me producing that game after he left.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            I just tried to run the team. I eventually did have a second lead designer, Matt Norton, who helped out. Eric DeMilt came on as the producer while he was also producing Stonekeep 2. There wasn't really someone else to give it to at the time, so I just took it and jumped in with both feet.

SCOTT EVERTS

            They said, "It's okay. We know what we're doing," because all games are made by groups. On movies, there's a director, but there's also a whole staff. It's a team effort. We had [Fallout as] a template. We knew what we were doing, and we had Chris Avellone, and obviously he was a big part of it.

           So, it was surprising, but we still made a great game, and they went off and did great stuff.

Bigger

Set eighty years after the conclusion of the first game, Fallout 2 sees the Vault Dweller’s tribe on the verge of extinction after his death. The chiefs gather to elect a “Chosen One” to leave the Vault and scour the wasteland for an item called the G.E.C.K., short for Garden of Eden Creation Kit. Feargus Urquhart, Eric DeMilt, and Matt Norton served as the chiefs of Fallout 2’s team. Urquhart shared producing duties with DeMilt, and teamed up with Norton to lead design.  Chris Avellone, a writer and designer whose talents for organization and storytelling were making an impact on multiple projects within Black Isle, joined them. Their goal was simple: Make a follow-up, and make it quickly.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            At Dragonplay and Black Isle, over a ten-year period, I went from junior designer all the way to the closest thing to Black Isle’s creative director, without the title. I was on [Dungeons & Dragons-licensed title] Descent to Undermountain at the time of the transition to Black Isle.

           Undermountain had a good team, but it wasn’t a great game for many reasons. On my part, it was my first big game, and I made my share of mistakes, but the project had a number of core problems that arose from the premise of the game and the tech it was using. Eventually, I asked if I could transition to the Planescape isometric RPG, and I switched over. I believe I was the only designer, and there may have been a part-time producer who had his hands full with other things.

SCOTT EVERTS

            Once Fallout 1 was done and people saw its success, they said, "Okay, everyone, we're going to start on Fallout 2," and I was on the team. I was really important to that team because there was no one else on Fallout 1 to do the levels, and I knew the editor really well. I knew where all the art was and how it all connected together.

           That was the hard part: To explain to other people how to use the art in a meaningful way. That was a struggle for a lot of people at first. I was kind of important on that one.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            I had to work on Descent to Undermountain [when Tim asked me to work on Fallout]. I did suggest Tim Cain talk to Scott Bennie, another writer at Interplay who I’d known from my work with Hero Games—Champions especially—and I thought he’d be great, and he was.

           Of course, I was still sad I didn’t get to work on it, and I was very happy to work on Fallout 2 when Tim, Jason, and Leonard quit and the studio was scrambling to find designers to replace them, even though I would have preferred to work with them on Fallout 2.

ERIC DeMILT

            Feargus and I chopped the game into parts so we could get it turned around in, I think, under twelve months.

DAN SPITZLEY

            It was pretty much like, "Okay, the last one was pretty successful. We need the next one as quickly as possible." That comes with a whole lot of crunch.

SCOTT EVERTS

            It was tough. Fallout 2 was really tough.

ERIC DeMILT

            Interplay was going through business challenges, so it was imperative that we get the title out for the next holiday season. There wasn't a lot of time to screw around. We had a great foundation to work with, but there was still a ton of work to be done to move forward: lots of detail to get built, get it in, get it tested.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            It was “all hands on deck” when the Big Three left. I was happy to work on it, by the way, even though the workload between that and Planescape: Torment was grueling. I was working on both projects at once, so my work hours escalated considerably.

            It wasn’t a well-managed process, and I wouldn’t do it again, but at the time, we didn’t have much choice. There didn’t seem to be any other fix for getting the games done.

ERIC DeMILT

            Tim, Leonard, Jason, and the design team from Fallout had already laid groundwork for some of the groundwork for big locations and what the story arc would be. It was more down to listening to fan feedback. We didn't have fan feedback the way we do now, but some community feedback and feedback from the sales team, like, "We need a tutorial! This game's super weird and too hard!"

           At that time in the industry, games like Diablo were getting popular, and that's a relatively simple game in terms of its user experience and learning curve. Not to take anything away from Diablo—it's a different game—but put that against the depth of, here's a classless RPG with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system stats, plus perks, plus all these dialogue choices.

Fallout 2’s compressed schedule demanded that Urquhart and DeMilt recruit more developers to accelerate development. Designers, programmers, and artists were pulled off projects such as Planescape: Torment and shuffled onto Fallout 2.

SCOTT EVERTS

            We had this mandate: "It has to be out in a year, and it has to be fifty percent bigger," if I'm remembering that right. That's when we brought in more map builders. I couldn't do the whole game because it was so much bigger, so we brought in some extra people to work on it.

FEARGUS URQUHART

            What I tried to do was take a lot of what Tim and Leonard had done, and finish it. For instance, they had started to design Vault City, which is one of the areas I took over and fleshed it out, and Chris Avellone finished it at a later date.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            Feargus found he couldn’t devote time to do the design work on Vault City, so after some stops and starts, he finally passed it off to me to finish. This turned out to be a good thing.

           After reviewing the material, the location was very bare bones, so I sat down and began to cut or redo a lot of the interactions and included a lot more quests, interactions, Easter eggs, and basically, well, fun things to do, which is the designer’s job.

SCOTT EVERTS

            One of our mistakes on Fallout 2 was we made it too big. I think we should have reigned it in a little bit, but there was this push to make it really big, with a lot more content. I think a leaner, meaner, and cleaner game would have been better, because we had lots of bugs in the second one that we had to fix.

DAN SPITZLEY

            I did the bulk of Broken Hills and some Navarro clean-up was in there too, I think. That was working much, much more directly with Chris Avellone. We were in the same office at the time. He was writing Vault City, so we would talk back and forth about what things needed to get done, and try to work through that as quickly as possible.

ERIC DeMILT

            There were some things that were still being fleshed out, like, "Oh, no, we need a tutorial," so we [shoehorned in] the Temple of Trials. It didn't really fit the world, but it was kind of Indiana Jones-like.

           We had some super talented people. Chris Avellone worked on a [boxing] arena. It was just glued on, but we had a really aggressive schedule.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            If I’d had the time—Vault City wasn’t planned—I’d have put a little more love in the Raider’s Caves, as they suffered a bit in comparison to Vault City and New Reno. The Raider’s Cave was largely a combat location, and it was a homage to our all-too-real team scorpion mascot, Spud, but even so, it could have used more meat to it.

            Spud got out of his aquarium one night and we never know what happened to him, but I became apprehensive about suddenly walking into a darkened room or retrieving a pen or pencil when it fell beneath a desk.

DAN SPITZLEY

            For Fallout 2, I was not originally supposed to work on Navarro. One of our other scripters had done a first and possibly second pass on it, but he was on another game. Getting shifted from area to area as needed was pretty common. Broken Hills was a little bit different in that Colin McComb was the lead designer on that area, I believe.

SCOTT EVERTS

            We had a bunch of new people working on it, and we had to teach them how to do everything. We had to expand the editor. We had a whole system for NPCs that we didn't have in the first game, so we could set them up and get them running around.

           This was a big lesson, and we know it now, but at the time we were paying a lot of attention to Internet forums. They was almost taken as gospel. The NPC [system] was a big surprise, too. People loved it [in the first game], so we expanded on it.

Without time or resources to innovate, Fallout 2’s developers built on what had made the first game a hit. The increased size and scope called for the team to scrap the timer system that had fit the do-or-die premise, but had somewhat curbed exploration and experimentation. Fallout 2 let players roam for as long as they wanted. Every change, from eschewing time limits to blowing up the game’s scope, catered to players who had loved the first game.

SCOTT EVERTS

            You don't want to shake things up too much because fans who played the first game love it and understand how it works. So, you just add more: more content, upgrade the party system so [companions] wouldn't run in front of machine guns.

           That was one of the problems on the first game. The AI had no situational awareness. It just thought, I need to shoot this guy, so it would run up and get right in front of [other characters] when you're going to pull out your machine gun. We expanded that functionality. Basically, it was quality-of-life functionality: make the core game better, and add more content.

ERIC DeMILT

            Some things evolved and led to other things. We put a car into Fallout 2. Like, "It's Mad Max, and now you've got the car, too. That's freaking epic." But it was originally scripted in by one of our designers, and scripting is super dangerous. You're putting a lot of power into the hands of people who aren't always trained programmers.

DAN SPITZLEY

            I think I might have done a slight bit of scripting for dealing with the car. The thing about the car was that it was mostly implemented in code, and I was not working directly with the game's C code at that point. I did work with the guy who was doing it, but the car in particular was a pretty tricky thing to get right.

ERIC DeMILT

           This designer had written this script that was for the car and the trunk, and at one point it got hooked up to an AI controller, so the car would kind of walk off-screen and wander around.

DAN SPITZLEY

            It was essentially a companion, so some of the companion behavior that every [other character] would use and seem reasonable sometimes would apply to the trunk, which is not reasonable. You have this trunk of the car that you can interact with and put stuff into. Periodically something would break, and the trunk would walk around with you like another companion.

            With the amount of development time you have, you had to think, Okay, I've got this vehicle, and I need to be able to put stuff into it. What are all the horrible things that could possibly go wrong trying to implement this using a system that was never designed to support it? You tried to figure out as many of those as you could, but you were going to fail.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I was there on day one, and we knew we had to rush. We were talking about levels: what we could make, and starting levels pretty quickly. I got the initial areas put together, made art lists, helped artists figure out what we needed.

            One thing we did to speed up the process with building environments, like custom 3D buildings was gray-box [prototype] them. Then someone would use Photoshop to paint in all the details because it was faster than trying to texture them in the 3D programs we used at the time.

            We did that a lot on the Icewind Dale games: Backgrounds were hand-painted over simple 3D renders. It was, “Here's a brick wall with all these vines on it.” It's a pain in the ass to do in 3D back then, so someone would sit there and draw in all that stuff by hand. A 2D artist could whip out a level that would have taken a 3D artist a lot longer, but tools back then were a lot simpler, so we had to cut corners.

DAN SPITZLEY

           Problems were going to crop up. I think they got all of those under control, but trying to jerry rig a companion system for something like [the car's trunk], just because there was no time to do anything else, leads to funny stories and, at the time, a lot of pain.

SCOTT EVERTS

            The trick was to make everything look like it fits. If you're going to hand-paint over 3D [objects], you've got to make them look like it's part of the 3D object and not painted over. Brian Menze is an amazing illustrator. He was really good at making stuff look like it matched.

Due to their tight turnaround time and familiarity with Fallout’s tools, Black Isle’s developers cranked out droves of content. They look back some of that content with affection, but have mixed feelings on other pieces of the game.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            When the Big Three did leave, we were given designs very rapidly and asked to flesh them out, we did so, but it felt like a mad rush to get the game done, and there wasn’t much cohesion as to certain game elements, especially overall design, so the game suffered from a somewhat uneven release and an uneven play experience, although many people did enjoy it.

SCOTT EVERTS

            Fallout 2 was more of the same, just a lot more of the same. It sounds terrible to say, but there was a lot more content to make in a short amount of time, so there was less time to think, Look at the cool things we're working on, and instead think, Oh my god, I've got to get this level done.

DAN SPITZLEY

           There was not as much content planned for Broken Hills, so a lot of random stuff went in there, which is sort of crazy. We had a treasure hunter, a little person trapped in a well because he'd been looking for treasure. There was a giant scorpion being taught to play chess. Just a lot of random things to flesh out the area.

ERIC DeMILT

            This is just my opinion, because I'm still super proud of Fallout 2's team and for having worked on it, but I think it lost some of the heart of the original Fallout in terms of cohesiveness and storytelling.

           It definitely felt like conventional movies that make fun of themselves, like, "Yeah, the third movie in a trilogy is usually the worst." I think we were there.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I like Fallout 1 better than 2 because it's a compact game. It's shorter. It has a good story arc. It's not quite as silly. The second one got silly at parts because when we realized everyone loved the pop culture references, we went a little overboard in the second game.

ERIC DeMILT

            I think we had a lot of people wanting to swing away and get their ideas in. That's what you want, but we had that perfect storm of Tim, Leonard, and Jason on the first game, with a vision for it.

           One of the designers on the first game had designed a city that was described as, "It's Raccoon City [from Resident Evil] with mutant raccoons!" It wouldn't have been a terrible idea, but Tim said, "No. Not in this game." We didn't have that sort of guiding hand. We didn't have an overall lead designer who really had a vision for what the world was and how everything fit. You had a lot of disparate parts.

          Like the tutorial: It's not a Fallout-y tutorial. It didn't have that cool, "The future as envisioned by people in the '50s" cohesion. I think we had a bit more pop culture, tongue-in-cheek random adventures. Frank Horrigan with chain gun arms is the final boss. That was just not as cool as the Master. Certainly Interplay could be schizophrenic. Interplay was up to 700, 1200—some ridiculous number of people at that time. That's a lot to scale with.

          There was no time to take a step back and reflect. You got content in, you fixed bugs, you maybe tweaked it a little bit, play-tested it some more, tweaked it some more. But you weren't like, "You know, this whole Temple of Trials is pretty janky. Let's try something else." That just wasn't an option.

DAN SPITZLEY

            When you drive the car in Broken Hills for the first time, I believe you run over a ghoul. It gets up and says, "No big deal," and walks off. I'm still not sure we had our level design process nailed down as far as writing documents for each and every area for our area designers, and standardized design [practices] across all designers.

           We do that stuff now [at Obsidian] because it makes games much more consistent and it's clear when things are not getting done. Whereas on Fallout 2, I can't speak to whether or not the same team was working from the same documents or not, but working with Chris Avellone, who liked to have everything laid out, to Broken Hills, things were a lot looser.

ERIC DeMILT

           I've learned a lot since then and a lot more comfortable being the dissenting voice for quality when it's necessary. I won't always win those arguments, but I'll make them. I was probably focused on, "These are the designs. If there's anything confusing in the implementation, sound off about it, but I'm not really going to tell you: The Pancor Jackhammer [full-auto shotgun] sounds stupid, why are we doing this?" I just wasn't that guy at the time.

           We had to get things done, and I was going to do everything I could to make sure the team did their jobs and make sure we were focused on the right stuff. Some noise and distractions that are low-priority get downsized. Beyond that, at the time I was too young a producer to say, "Is that really what we ought to be doing?" At the time, I certainly didn't recognize how invaluable having someone with a vision for the product you're making is.

DAN SPITZLEY

            I think when you don't have a pipeline that is very well laid out and concrete, you end up with that flailing at the end. I think things turned out better than they could have, but I noticed a lot of opinions about how Fallout 2 sort of failed in terms of tone. Looking back, I certainly wouldn't disagree. I think with some more time and more planning, it probably could have been more consistent.

           At the same time, with that freewheeling development, you do get things you wouldn't get if you knew exactly what you were going to do from day one. I think we got some benefits out of that [schedule], but whether it made the game better or not is really a matter of opinion.

CHRIS AVELLONE

            Trish Wright, our VP of development, and who was formerly head of marketing, did come by and tell me I needed to stop working and that my health was more important, which was cool of her. She was genuinely worried. I did have to go to the doctor for it, which terrified me, and made me resolve to take better care of myself.

           I do think excessive attention to health was probably a distraction from my creativity, though: I wanted to write, not work out all the time. Of course, I like being alive and breathing too, so there’s that.

Test of Time

Critics heaped praise on Fallout 2 when the game launched in late September of 1998. GameSpot dubbed it a “bigger, better” Fallout and touted the larger world populated with more characters and missions. IGN appreciated that Black Isle and Interplay had not attempted to fix what clearly wasn’t broken, while PC Gamer named it one of the best RPGs of all-time in 2015.

Commercially, results were mixed. Fallout 2 debuted on market research firm PC Data’s bestseller list at the number-three spot in the first week of November. The next week, it fell off the top ten. During end-of-the-year deliberations to determine the best games of 1998, Fallout 2 was a top contender for best RPG at critical outlets such as CNET, Computer Gaming World, and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, but lost to Baldur’s Gate, a title made by a newer studio in Canada and that ended up prolonging the fate of Interplay and Black Isle.

Over twenty years later, Fallout 2’s developers remain proud of what they created, though that pride is tempered by memories of an arduous schedule.

SCOTT EVERTS

            I suppose I preferred Fallout because it was something new and different. They were both stressful projects, but I enjoyed working on Fallout more. Fallout 2 became a death match near the end. We had so much content, and we had to get it all done.

CHRIS AVELLONE

           I’m mostly known for New Reno in Fallout 2, but I tried to put a lot of love in Vault City as well. I was happy how it turned out, and ended up feeling glad for the opportunity.

ERIC DeMILT

           My proudest moment is Tim asking me to be a producer on Fallout 2. I worked with Tim at Black Isle, and it was a great honor to take over Fallout, just for him to recommend me with that. I'm working with him again now on a project at Obsidian, and it's awesome. I'm proudest that I was a knucklehead with enough value to add something to a dev team, and to a project that he was passionate about.

           Beyond that, I think we made a good game. In a lot of ways we evolved the Fallout franchise. I wish we'd had more time, and had more of a guiding hand. At the same time, for the schedule, the team, and what was going on at Interplay, I think we made something super cool.

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