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Defining (The) Fallout(s): Part 2
[ Community -> Mismatch's Corner ]
Mismatch's Corner posted by King of Creation Mon 19 Feb 2007, 4:54 PM

Defining (The) Fallout(s) Part: 2
It came to me in a dream.

-By Mismatch


For Part One, click here.


In the previous article, as you may recall, we discussed which core aspects made Fallout the brilliant game it was. We briefly defined what we considered to be what made Fallout a success. The components we ultimately defined were:

1. Setting
2. Dialogues
3. Cause and Effect
4. Freedom, Non-linearity, and open endedness
5. S.P.E.C.I.A.L
6. Turn Based Combat

In this part, we will further examine these components in Fallout, how they manifested themselves, and which features in them made them become such important components of the game. Take note that this part probably is more subjective than the previous one. This is my view on what made each component such a success in (the)Fallout(s). There is probably more to say about each component than I do say. Just keep in mind that I'm trying to write this rather overviewish as an article, and not a book. Also, many of these components are interjoined. For this article, I am trying to describe them as separate entities. But in the end it is the whole that made the game, how the devs managed to fit it all together.

I'm trying to keep everything short here as I don't want to get tedious. I feel that brief and concise should be the way to go to reach a wider audience. So, if you want deeper analysis, ask someone over at NMA to write something.

I've had to hurry through some parts a tad too fast, since I'm writing my masters thesis at the same time and really am short of time. I'll try to follow things up with a third article when things get less messy around here.

please note:

In some cases when I write Fallout or FO I mean both games, in other I mean FO1, and in others yet i mean FO2. Just so you know I'm not being consistent.


The Fallout setting is at first glance rather straightforward, and yet it is much more complex than one would think. One part fifties style retro, one part Max Max fashioned post apocalypse, and one part 50's science fiction.

From this mix, something arises. A world harsh and desolate, an "It's every man for himself" mentality only previously seen in old western flicks, and a boy and his dog. By mixing genres which at first glance may seem to clash, Interplay somehow managed to produce a world filled with uncertainty and fear. Even as you entered a town you were on your toes since some local gunslinger was probable to start a mess.

This insecurity somehow made security feel more secure. Regardless of how you felt about they treat mutants and ghouls at Vault City, I know that you, at some point, glanced at the grass and dreamt of just sitting down. You were more than willing to trade freedom for a sense of security and calm. No matter how short the moment was, I'm rather sure it was there.

Fallout 2
did at some point (*cough* New Reno *cough*) lose itself a tad ("I'm gonna start my own amusement park, with blackjacks, and hookers!"), however, my opinion is that it didn't ruin the game. If you consider today's Reno, this vision probably isn't that far off. So I can accept it without loving it.

Fallout 2 did, in general, stray a bit from the ideal Fallout set. However, and this is essential, it did manage not to stray too far. It was acceptable.

The setting is more than this though. The setting is also NPC reactions, how they attack you as you say "Bite me" - the no bullshit attitude and the violence you face when you say the wrong things or sympathize with the wrong lads. A setting without the right attitudes to underline it would merely have been paint on paper. However with NPC's living and acting according to the world, we have a setting. At this point I would want to point out that this setting could have been a failure. A setting alone does not make a game. However, with the right story to back it up, this setting was a grand success. The story should be considered as part of the setting, since a good story can make the setting more alive and believable or it can ruin it totally.

The Fallout's story isn't merely a story of violence in a radiated wasteland. It is a story of belonging, of fear of the unknown and intolerance, of how isolation breeds suspicion and one mans quest to once and for all end these fears, end the suspicion, the hate and the intolerance(FO1) but in the end he manages to increase it and gives birth to an attempt to cleanse the world of anyone who is not genetically a human(FO2).

It is the story of Richard Grey.

And hopefully the developers of future Fallout games have understood this.

It is entirely possible that this is why FO has such a high degree of freedom, because the game is not about the player, so controlling him and pushing him in certain directions is not really needed.


The Dialogue in (The) Fallout(s) was very well written - not only well written in the sense that the writing was good, but also because it (usually) stuck to the setting. They went further than this by having delightful dialogue trees and, perhaps most important, took player skills and stats into account. A low intelligence made it harder for the player to express himself, and high intelligence and skills could give new dialogue options.

In essence, the Fallout dialogue system can be claimed to make Fallout a better cRPG in two ways:

1) By taking player skills and stats into account the dialogue underline the fact that the player plays a role. Fallout lets stats have unusually much influence on dialogue, and this makes the dialogue unusually good.

2) The depth and amount of dialogue. This depth does not only apply to important NPC's but in some cases even less important NPC's have interesting dialogue. An example that springs to mind directly is Athabaska Dick in FO2 who, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting characters in the game. With such a large amount of dialogue, many of which are deep (and some even gives xp like that weird cat story in the Den), (the) Fallout(s) manages to reach a level of immersion only matched by Planescape.

This is the quick way of describing dialogue in Fallout, and hopefully my point has been communicated in an acceptable manner. If not, I doubt that it ever can be.

Cause and Effect

In the opinion of many people, one of the greatest parts of (the) Fallout(s) was/is how the world reacts to your actions. Often the reaction is also well balanced, making the effect part even better. The cause and effect in FO ranges from simple 'quest complete' reactions, to the dynamic 'end game' movie which more or less sums up what you did.
And yet, there is more than that. Cause and effect is seen in the dialogue, where NPC reactions to your words may be a tad suprising. It can be noticed as you get certain special perks: NPCs react to them, and sometimes call you something related to what you are, or they may, in some cases, even attack you.

This is rather unusual in cRPGs. Most of them only let a person who is directly related to something react to it, usually in this fashion: "Hello again, thanks for getting my cat out of the cellar!!!!" In my opinion this thoroughness in cause and effect flows through the game and increases immersion as well as your perceived reward for completing something. The satisfaction is greater when the game world reacts.

I for one more or less pissed myself with pleasure when the enclave showed up in Gecko (FO2) after I had fooled around with their network. Sadly enough, Fallout had a particularly annoying cause and effect bug which we all should recognize. The town killer accidents that could happen. A stray bullet here and there caused an entire town/settlement to turn against you and, being a 'tuff guy', you don't back down and thus you end up having to kill everyone. Fun, but sort of a faulty reaction in my opinion. It should be said though that this reaction probably was the result of a bad factions system rather than bad game design.

At this point I hope the whole cause and effect thingy has sunk in on you, and that you understand it, as well as appreciate how lovely FO handles it. Because I won't write any more about it and you can't make me.

Freedom, Non-linearity, and open endedness

These three concepts are integral elements in making the Fallout world believable and life like. Without them, FO(1&2) would still be a good game(s), but not as great as it/they is/are. Let's step 'em through (rather briefly, I'm tired of writing):

The amount of freedom in FO is rather big, you can open fire in the middle of a settlement, use drugs on yourself and other people, roam around the wastes just ignoring the main quest and generally do what you want. Part of this freedom comes from the dialogue, which often contains enough options for you to follow your desired conversation path. The sense of freedom also increases due to one small but vital detail: There is no babysitting. The player chooses his own path and faces the consequences. Often this makes you feel a tad lost in the wastes but this is a good thing, it elevates the harsh 'reality' of the setting.

Non-linearity in FO was shown in a multitude of ways, the most obvious being how one was free to roam the wastes. This was, I dare say, not the most pleasing non linearity in the game. What really made it pleasing to one such as me was how many a quest could be solved in different ways, with different outcomes and, finally, different reactions from NPCs. This boosted replayability, increased the use of many player skills (like speech), and made the world so much more interactive (in lack of a better word). Another way how non linearity showed was the 'outro clip' that summed up your actions, which changed dynamically depending on the player's actions. Fallout's degree of non linearity is, as yet, unchallenged and probably will be for some time.

Open endedness
The open endedness in FO can be seen not only in the 'dynamic ending thingy' I've mentioned earlier. In Fallout 1, there are two different 'overseer' endings. Also I dare say that there was, before patch 1.1 , a mutant army ending after 500 days. In essence an ending is open if the player can affect it and in FO you can. And now I'm bored so I'll skip to the next component.


We don't know whether GURPS would have worked with Fallout, but we do know that S.P.E.C.I.A.L does. And it works well indeed. What SPECIAL did, and manged to do in a most satisfying fashion was brunging pen and paper into the computer. This is a positive thing. The details, the simple and yet remarkably good system which to model the world.
SPECIAL is the very spine of the Fallout universe, not because it is the only system that would work, but because it is the only system which is Fallout.

It is hard to imagine Fallout without SPECIAL and not think about FO:POS.

So let's not.

Let us be satisfied with the fact that Fallout is special. And so is SPECIAL. And susan. There isn't much more to say. Well, actually there is, much much more. But I hope someone else will since writing about special isn't very exiting and I assume that reading about it isn't either.

Turn Based Combat

As I stated in the previous article it is essential to have a combat system that works well with the core system of the game. In our case (Fallout) this is turn based combat. Why? Well, as stated earlier, SPECIAL was designed with PnP in mind and thus it was also designed for turnbased combat. So designwise in is unwise not to follow the SPCIAL system by not using turnbased combat. Because this would not wreck the combat system, but also wreck SPECIAL itself. And that would not be very nice.

This is the purely game technical reason why turnbased combat is part of what makes fallout fallout. There are other aspects of turnbased however, aspects to why it is for cRPG purposes far superior to realtime. (tactical and such) Usually in a cRPG the combat is bloody boring, and I dare say that the Fallouts are the only games in which I've really enjoyed doing combat. I love every minute of it, from the death animations and the thought you have to put into it to the fleshy thumping sound your foot emits as is strikes someone in the face. And, as I recall, someone DID actually at some point write an article about why TB is better over at the codex or something. But I can't bloody find it.

That's all for now folks.

As I've stated some of this article was sort of a quickie, but I figured it's better to realease it a tad sloppy than not at all.

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