Earlier today, former Fallout developer Joel Burgess shared the sad news that the real-life inspiration behind Fallout 4's canine companion Dogmeat had died. In a thread on Twitter Burgess shared how much of an impact River had on the team working on Fallout 4 and the Dogmeat character.
According to Burgess using River as the direct inspiration behind Dogmeat wasn’t always the plan. But he wanted to make sure the canine companion in Fallout 4 wasn’t just a weapon. After seeing a new team member cover their desk with reference photos of German Shepards snarling, growling, and biting, Burgess began bringing the loveable River into the studio. Burgess explained that River wasn’t brought in to be “poked” or “prodded,” but to become a part of the team and more importantly to bond with the various devs working on Fallout 4's Dogmeat. “The more they bonded with her, the more they saw Dogmeat as a character - a friend,” said Burgess.
Quickly, more and more people working on the game began spending time with River and contributing to the Dogmeat project. While Dogmeat obviously looks a lot like River, Dogmeat also uses audio recordings of the real-life dog too. At one point, to get distress calls, Burgess had to lock himself in a different room out of sight of River. Eventually, the dog began to call out for her owner and friend. “These sessions were a little heartbreaking,” admitted Burgess. “But they also turned out to be great references for happy little celebration yips as well.”
Another Dogmeat trait that was directly lifted from River was the way Dogmeat will run ahead of the player, stop, look back and wait for you. This was something the developers and Burgess noticed early on when walking River outside and it was added into Fallout 4.
Burgess and the team’s goal with Dogmeat wasn’t to create another deadly companion, but to create a friend for players. Someone they could rely on.
“Dogmeat is a tether,” said Burgess. “He grounds you in the world, will always stand by you, lead you to your family, and anticipate your needs. He wants you to be safe and happy. In other words, he loves you. And if love is River’s legacy, I am contented. Rest in peace, big girl.”