Fallout Could've Been About Time-Traveling, Dinosaurs, and Monkey Murder

The original Fallout was a gamble that paid off big-time; it set in place a tone, gameplay philosophy and fiction that is still going strong today. Fallout games are best known for their evocative, funny, dark and violent post-apocalyptic world. But it could have been another kind of game entirely.

In a Fallout post-mortem at the Game Developers Conference, Tim Cain, the producer, designer and lead programmer described an alternate version of the game's story that could have come to be a reality.

"You started in the modern world," Cain said. "You traveled back in time, you killed the monkey that would evolve into humans, you went through space travel, you went to the future, which was ruled by dinosaurs, you were exiled to a fantasy planet where magic took you back to the original timeline that you restored to full, and came back to the modern world to save your girlfriend."

Okay, so. As much as I love the idea of a fantasy planet that magically returns things to how they were, allowing you to save your girlfriend, I think my favorite part about this is that you "killed the monkey that evolved into humans." What?

"It's weird to hear me talk about it now," Cain said, "but we really were going to go with this. And I think one of the other producers kinda slapped me and said, 'There's no way you're going to get this storyline made, it's not going to get through, you could work on it for years and no one would ever do it.'

"I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we had done this game, and believe Scott Campbell may have it written down somewhere. I'd love to see it, to see what we thought was cool eighteen years ago."

Well dang, I would love to see that too. I'm glad that Fallout exists and everything, but I'd also like to see what the guys who made it would have done with a time-traveling Dinosaur story.

Some other notes from the talk:

  • Before they came up with the (great) name Fallout, the following alternate names were toyed with: Aftermath, Survivor, and the particularly terrible/on-the-nose Postnuclear Adventure.
  • The game initially failed certification for Windows 95, but for a very strange reason. Namely, Fallout failed Windows 95 cert because the game worked on Windows NT. To get certified on Windows 95, the game was supposed to "fail gracefully" on WindowsNT. Instead it worked. Cain said he called microsoft and said "It fails so gracefully that it doesn't fail at all." Which didn't fly, The solution? Go into the game and code it to detect Windows NT and just sort of… fail. Heh.
  • The team had a rule about references: If a pop cultural reference was going into the game, it had to be unnoticeable by someone who didn't get it. As an example, Cain said that the "Slayer" perk was because Chris [Jones] was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Fallout got in trouble with the folks at Steve Jackson games (who owned the GURPS role-playing system the game was based on) because of the design, art and violence. For a while, it looked like the game would be cancelled as a result. In the end, GURPS was torn out, and they redesigned and coded the game in two weeks. I'm not exactly sure how we did it, my memory of that time is vague. But we did it. The systems behind all of Fallout, with the exception of perks, was done in two weeks.
  • For some reason, the game was submitted for a "T" rating, even though it contained drugs, prostitution, and child-murder. So, when the ESRB saw that, they of course rated it "M."
  • There wasn't that much drama around the child-killing in America, but in Europe, the game wouldn't have made it to shelves. There wasn't time to re-code the game, so they simply deleted all of the kids from the disk.
  • People refer to Fallout as a game from an isometric perspective, but Cain pointed out that the perspective is in fact "Cavalier Oblique."
  • Cain worked on the game by himself for a year, before getting two team members—a scripter and a coder, both of whom were named "Jason." People referred to them as "Tim and the Jasons."
  • They originally wanted the Inkblots' "I Don't Want to Set The World on Fire" to be the game's theme song, but couldn't get it due to licensing reasons. Instead, they went with "Maybe," and it would up working better for the tone of the game. And, much later down the road, "I Don't Want to Set The World on Fire" became the theme of Fallout 3.
  • Fallout's S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats system was originally called A.C.E.L.I.P.S. I wasn't entirely sure whether or not Cain was kidding about this.
(Dinosaur photo: Dapper Dinos)