The post-nuclear Wasteland of the Fallout franchise didn't simply spring forth into existence from nothing. Starting with the original Fallout in 1997 and slowly taking shape over the last 18 years, the influences that came to shape the franchise are as vast and varied as the quirky characters that roam Fallout's irradiated world.
To piece together each and every influence on the series is likely an impossible task, but while many different pieces of popular culture have helped shape the series over the years, there are a number of key influences that stand above the rest. From pulp science fiction tales to '70s cinema, these are some of the works that helped shape the juggernaut RPG franchise we love today.
Part of what makes Fallout's post-apocalyptic world so fascinating is how it mirrors our past. Fallout imagines a world where the 1950s era of the nuclear family and sunny day optimism (despite the ever-looming threat of nuclear war) never really went away. Instead, it lasted for decades, as did the chance of complete nuclear annihilation. The sci-fi pulp stories and superhero comics of the '50s, featuring robots that look primitive compared with our modern standards and Flash Gordon-esque laser weaponry, all became real in the world of Fallout, not simply confined to the pages of fiction.
One piece of required reading for any Fallout fan is Ray Bradbury's short story There Will Come Soft Rain, taking its name from a poem about the apocalyptic nature of the first World War. Bradbury's story tells the tale of a computer-controlled house as it goes about its daily routine of cooking and cleaning for a well-off family in the year 2026. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the owners of the house are no longer around. When Bradbury describes the silhouettes of a man, woman and two children burnt onto the side of the house, it becomes clear they died in a nuclear explosion. It's then revealed that the house sits alone amid a pile of ruins — the last remnants of what used to be an American city.
Fallout pulls heavily from Bradbury's vision of what a world might look like after the bombs have been dropped. From automated helper robots to the imagery of a lone house standing in stark contrast to the devastation around it, the comparisons are easy to make. Bethesda even went so far as to include the poem in Fallout 3. Once the player has hacked the terminal inside the home, the helper robot will enter the bedroom of what appears to be a child before reciting the poem, an obvious reference to Bradbury's work.
Images of a lone gunman wandering a nuclear wasteland aren't unique to Fallout. One of the biggest film influences on the franchise is the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog, based on a series of novellas of the same name. The film centers around Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood. Together, the two roam a post-apocalyptic world in search of food, supplies and women, often having to avoid raiders and mutants. They eventually stumble upon an underground "utopia" that looks eerily similar to '50s post-war America, in which survivors are ruled by a group called "The Committee."
Sound familiar? Aside from the various narrative ideas spinning out of the idea of a world in which women are scarce, the wasteland of A Boy and His Dog isn't all that different from Fallout. Both feature mutants, underground societies and dog companions, though Fallout's Dogmeat hasn't revealed himself to have telepathy (yet).
The image of a boy and his dog has been used throughout the RPG series, invoking yet another wasteland-themed film. You might have seen this image before.
Now, compare it with this.
Dog? Check. Barren wasteland? Check. Leather armor, complete with one distinct shoulder pad? That's no coincidence. Though the wasteland of the Mad Max films wasn't brought on specifically by nuclear war (lack of water and a global energy crisis also contributed), the idea is much the same. Max travels the desert wasteland with his dog and trusty sawed-off shotgun, searching for food, water and fuel. The inhabitants of his world are often malnourished, deformed and mutated in grotesque ways. Bands of raiders, often wearing makeshift armor and equipped with crude weapons, are commonplace.
This, too, all finds it way into the Fallout universe, but the RPG series adopts a dark sense of humor that is all its own. Aside from these major influences, references to Planet of the Apes, Doctor Who, The Goonies and more can be found throughout the franchise. Pop culture and Fallout go hand-in-hand, and players can no doubt look forward to plenty more in Fallout 4.
At its core, Fallout is an RPG. As such, it has pen-and-paper RPG systems to thank for many of its components. In fact, the original Fallout, at one time, used the tabletop RPG GURP (Generic Universal Role-Playing) system as its official backbone. That changed late into development, however, as contract squabbles over the level of violence in Fallout caused GURP owner Steve Jackson Games to take its RPG system and walk the other way. This, in turn, led to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system Fallout uses today.
Fallout owes much to pen-and-paper RPGs, as do all video games in the genre, but it would be nothing without the critically-acclaimed game that came before it. We are, of course, talking about Interplay's 1988 masterpiece Wasteland.
For all intents and purposes, Fallout is the spiritual successor to Wasteland, and as such, it shares much of the same DNA. Since Interplay was unable to make a real sequel to Wasteland (the IP was owned by EA), they instead started work on Fallout. Both are choice-driven RPGs set in a post-nuclear war world. In Wasteland, players take control of a squad of U.S. Army remnants calling themselves the "Desert Rangers" as they investigate disturbances throughout the irradiated Southwestern United States. Wasteland was a violent game for the time, with its combat-flavored text describing enemy deaths in details with lines like: "explodes like a blood sausage" or "reduced to a thin red paste."
Fallout would incorporate all of that and more, adding even more violence, a dark sense of humor, a 1950s vibe and plenty of pop culture references, including dozens of references to Wasteland itself. While Wasteland served as the framework, Fallout built upon it in nearly every way.
These are just a few of the numerous inspirations that have helped craft the world's favorite nuclear-themed RPG series. Fallout may borrow from some of the best, but it does so with a unique spin that makes the series stand apart from its various inspirations. Gamers simply can't get enough of the world Interplay and Bethesda have created, and they likely won't for many years to come.