Uncovering the Fallout Series' True Origins

By Keza MacDonald on at

The Fallout Anthology is out today, a collection of every game in the greatly loved post-apocalyptic series so far (that's 1997's Fallout, Fallout 2 from 1998, Fallout Tactics from 2001, 2008's Fallout 3, and New Vegas from 2010) that comes in an actual nuke-shaped container, which strikes me as deeply ironic given what the Fallout games have to say about nuclear war. But one crucial game is missing from that collection: Wasteland, a 1988 game for the home computers of the time. Its creator Brian Fargo would go on to make the first two games in the Fallout series with legendary studio Black Isle Studios. (He would also finally make Wasteland 2 in 2014, after a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign. A PS4 and Xbox One version is coming this month.)

Wasteland is the Fallout series' true origins. And not just spiritually: Fallout literally exists because Fargo could not get the rights to the Wasteland name from EA, who originally published it, so he had to come up with something else. As a consequence, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of Fallout's iconic things, people, places and plotlines originated in Wasteland.

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"I think that people have forgotten, or don't know, how much Fallout was actually [the original] Wasteland 2," Fargo tells me. "My charter was like, OK, I can't get the rights to Wasteland 2 from Electronic Arts. I'm never going to pry it from their cold, dead fingers anytime soon. So, what can we do that hits on the open-world nature of it, the sense of a persistent world? Because that's what made Wasteland very revolutionary: this whole concept that you could solve things by using skills and stats on the environment, that you could talk, sneak or shoot your way out of a problem.

"There's a lot of stuff that was literally lifted straight from Wasteland into Fallouts 1 and 2, and even today. I wanted to specifically reference as much as possible without being sued by Electronic Arts. It's like if there was a movie with Han Solo in it before Star Wars."

Brian and I went through some of the specific references. These are some of the ways that Fallout pays tribute to (or, indeed, directly lifts from) its heritage.

  • The Brotherhood of Steel is a practically identical military organisation to Wasteland's Guardians of the Old Order. Both are quasi-religious (or overtly religious in the case of the Guardians of the Old Order), both use and preserve old technology, both are extremely xenophobic, both have a propensity to build fortified bunkers, sometimes in the sides of mountains.

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  • Power armour, which is "a huge deal in Fallout", as Brian says, appeared in Wasteland first. "That was inside the Citadel [the Guardians' base] in Wasteland, it was one of the great pieces of armour towards the end of the game," says Brian.
  • When you die in Wasteland, you get an on-screen message saying "Your life has ended in the wasteland". In Fallout you get an image of a picked-clean corpse – and, sometimes, the exact same words. "We took the message verbatim," Brian says.
  • There is a Desert Ranger named Tycho in Fallout, whose grandfather was also a Desert Ranger. In dialogue, Tycho mentions a "fat freak" from Las Vegas - a direct reference to a character called "Fat Freddy" from Wasteland. Freddy was a crime boss, and I feel compelled to share the description of him from the story-book that came with the original Wasteland, because the writing is so delicious: "Fat Freddy is a genetic nightmare - a squamous mass of slimy flesh shuddering and twitching before you like some animated blob of flesh-coloured jello. He smells like a swamp, a foul, choking miasma of rotting mastodonian flesh left to putrefy."
  • The dreaded Deathclaws in Fallout were taken from Wasteland's Shadowclaws. They look kinda different, but are both lizardy, mutated and dangerous. Ghouls also came straight from Wasteland, in various forms.

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  • Fallout 3 had a quest to do research for a Wasteland Survival Guide. This is a reference to the hint book that came with Wasteland, which had the same name. Wasteland actually came with THREE books: one was a "paragraph book" that contained the game's story and description text, because there wasn't enough memory for all of it in the actual game, one was a manual, and the last was a survival guide with maps and advice. I've actually got these, here's a picture:

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  • The name Red Ryder – a reference to a real-life comic strip – appears in both Fallout 1/2 and Wasteland. In Wasteland, Red Ryder was a character who appeared to seek vengeance on child-killers. In Fallout it's an arms manufacturing company. The Red Ryder BB Gun appears in both. There are plenty of other almost-identical weapons, too.
  • So, about that Wasteland paragraph book that added text that would not fit on the disc: Fargo and co created an entirely fictional story about a Martian invasion, which was designed to throw off anyone who tried to read ahead. This fake Martian invasion was later played up in both the Fallout series and Wasteland 2. Fallout had a UFO hidden in the vast expanse of the wasteland, which you could randomly come across.
  • Fallout 3's Mothership Zeta expansion is essentially a continuation of this long-running alien invasion in-joke. So is the Firelance, a unique "alien weapon" in Fallout 3.
  • Wasteland had a ornijetcopter in the storyline while Fallout introduced the ornithopter.
  • John Cassidy from Fallout 2 uses Wasteland combat taunts, as described in the paragraph book. (He's also the father of Rose of Sharon Cassidy in Fallout: New Vegas.)
  • Christine in Dead Money (the Fallout: New Vegas add-on) and indeed all the DLC’s for New Vegas was an homage to the Wasteland companion, Christine.

Of course, Fallout belongs to Bethesda now – which surely must be strange for Brian and the other people who worked on the originals. "I created my little monster there and I try to stay away from it now. It'll squash me if I get anywhere near!" he laughs. "Even if it's competition now, you can't help but be proud." But Bethesda's Fallout games still carry plenty of references to their roots in the original Wasteland. The most recent is something you might have spotted in Fallout Shelter: a Wasteland pinball machine, sitting there in the rec room.

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