It’s time for another Fallout appreciation post! This one is about storytelling used in the modern Fallout games, specifically when it comes to using set design and props to tell or compliment a story. This post is in some ways a sequel to my other Fallout post, which told my favourite side stories from the franchise, but with a more narrow scope. I love how in these games, things seem to make sense. If you’re in a house, there is usually all the necessary rooms designed together in a functional way. Office buildings have the right stuff, with typewriters at newspaper offices and clipboards and pens in factory offices. I also love that is there is a story being told in a location, all the set pieces mentioned in the story can be found around that area. If the story tells of a favourite toy or food, it can be found where the diary entry said. I feel like I’m not giving this concept justice, so let’s move on to the examples.
In the Fallout 3 add-on The Pitt, you are tasked with collecting steel ingots to hand into the slave bosses who have captured you. The area given to you to search includes a supply plant. While full of many enemies, there is also some background to how the plant found it’s end. Through reading the terminals in the building, you can follow the story of how the upper management decided to replace their workers with robots. First, they claimed the new robots were just for added security, to the suspicions of the workers. The supervisor Tom McMullin attempted to stall this change, but the workers were laid off anyways. The final entries of Tom tell of the workers revolting against him, as the only accessible higher up. Tom barricades himself in a security closet, with the angry men banging on the doors outside. He then hears the sound of a robot approaching, screaming, and opens the door in time to see them all get shot down by the new robot workforce. He slams the door and writes in his terminal that he isn’t opening that door for anyone!
And it seems that he stayed true to his word. In the small closet the player has to unlock to reach these entries, there is a single skeleton stationed at the terminal, with a pistol by his side, just as the entry described. Outside the door lay the skeletons of the dead workers, laying in a pile of bobby pins. They were trying to pick their way into the office until the robot came around the corner and ended that. Additionally, there is a robot in the room before this, that if you turn on and set to maintenance, he will come around the corner just in time for you to finish reading all about the killer robot!
Ofie Clan Plot
Here is an example of Fallout just tugging at your heartstrings and basically just making you really sad. The Ofie Clan Plot is a small graveyard in the add-on Point Lookout. It’s a stand alone location, with no additional context given besides what is there. A few swamp ghouls guard the area, but once you defeat them, you come across a half buried coffin. Inside is a small skeleton, presumably of a child, being lain to rest. The presence of a medical brace indicates this child suffered from some sort of medical condition that eventually let to their death. Whoever is burying this child decided to bury them with a couple of toys and some snacks, probably a grieving parents last attempt to make sure their child is happy and safe. Nearby lay a whisky bottle and glass, leading one to believe that the one filling in the grave was not coping in the most healthy way.
Fallout: New Vegas
While the premise is given away immediately by the location marker, I’m still impressed by this locations attention to detail. A simple shack stands just off the highway, guarded by cazadores. Defeating them, you enter into what continues to seem like an simple shack. Enter the basement however, and the real scheme unfolds. You come across a table full of empty bottles of Sunset Sarsaparilla and Nuka-Cola. There are also a bunch of caps and some vending machines. At a closer look you can see that there is an assembly line in place. At the end with all the caps, someone crafts them using the hammer and paint gun found there. Then someone puts the cap onto a bottle, and finally places the bottle into the machine. A well-oiled operation! I just love the attention to detail with the actually tools one would theoretically need to make a bottle cap.
Mole Rat Ranch
Now this location is mostly a joke, but I find it quite interesting. Consisting of a few makeshift walls, the mole rat ranch is home to, you guess it, mole rats! However, the first time you come upon this location, you’re likely to run into a mad cow run amok and attacking the mole rats! This cow is also aggressive towards you, so watch out. Quite a peculiar phenomenon, since brahmin are normally non-aggressive and flee from trouble. Well, if you head north-west of this ranch you can find a brahmin ranch, and in the feeding trough is piles of meat! It seems as though someone has been feeding their brahmin meat, which has created a hunger for flesh in the poor cows!
This example is more of a job well done with personalizing areas to match characters. Higg’s Village is the location in the add-on Old World Blues. It is where the scientists of Big MT lived pre-war, while they were working on experiments in the other buildings there. I love this location because of how you can know who’s house is whose without being told directly by anyone.
House #00 contains several robots being worked on, evident by the tool boxes and scrap metal. There are many computers throughout the house, and in the kitchen is a portrait of Mr. House…with a knife stuck through his face, chest, and groin. Someone clearly has a grudge against Mr. House. With these clues we can tell that Dr. 0 lived here, as his specialty is in building robots. He also has a dislike for RobCo Industries and it’s founder.
House #101 has a giveaway, as this is wear you can find Dr. Klein’s glove and scrubs. However, you can also tell that it was his due to the decor of a bar and drink machine, as Dr. Klein is a recluse. He also has the most computers and notes strewn about, as he was the head researcher of logistical operations and ideology.
House #102 contains many containers of Mentats, which alone can point us to the past owner. Mobius now has quite the Mentat addiction, one he may have been just beginning while living in this house. Another subtle clue is the two monitors in the first room. The left is broken and the right is not, just like Mobius’ own eye monitors.
House #103 has a more sinister vibe, as you enter a room full of bird cages. This room has another giveaway, since there is a Borus’ basement key, but again we can discern that without the clue. As Borus is the Head of Animalogy, Beastology, and DNA-Scrambling technology, it makes sense that his house would be filled with cages of the animals he experimented on. His basement also hides more cages, an operating table, and a poor teddy bear stabbed in the face with a surgical scalpel! Behind this house is also a dog house with the name Gabe written on the welcome mat. Borus owned a dog named Gabe, before experimenting on it horribly.
House #104 has a strong fashion and style theme, with broken mirrors, teddy bears watching a walkway, and numerous fashionable outfits litter the house. The house also included some sexy sleepwear and several bottles of wine, perfect for a date night. This is clearly Dr. Dala’s house. Through dialogue with her we discover she is a bit, shall we say, fascinated with human biology? There is a rather disturbing line of conversation that leads to Dala seemingly having an orgasm at the mere thought of the human anatomy.
Finally, House #108. This house is connected to Dr. 8 by mostly…the number eight! In the kitchen, there are 8 coffee mugs and plates perfectly lined up on the counter. There are 8 clocks and 8 paintings hanging on the walls.
Boston Mayoral Shelter
This is a story that can break your heart or end satisfyingly, depending on your aversion to authority and those that abuse it. This bunker looks like many others, except for the giant bulldozer than tore the door off and dozens of skeletons lining the path. Clearly people were trying to break into this place. Following the skeletons, you enter an elevator that brings you down to the bunker proper. Immediately it’s clear this is a much nicer bunker than most, with a living room, master bedroom, and carpeted halls. Tapes found tell about how the Mayor embezzled money from the citizens and answered to his wife’s every wild demand. Once you enter the bathroom, it starts really falling apart.
In the bathtub is a skeleton, along with a radio and several empty bottles of beer. The holotape on the toilet is a suicide note, left by the mayor. After the bombs fell, a mob of angry citizens arrived at the door, demanding blood for their wasted tax dollars. In a desperate attempt to stave them off, he thought killing himself would allow the mob to spare his wife and child. However, a guard update tells us that his wife was never informed of this possible solution. After walking through the full-sized gymnasium (see why people were so mad?) you can find the unfortunate remains of a woman and child in the maintenance room. Her holotape informs you that she was hiding out here until the mob ran. She laments being so greedy and admits to letting the mob have the bunker if they can just live. It seems this last bid was not good enough.
On first approach of this building, you are greeted by a Mr. Handy. Inside, you can read two terminals that tell you about two twin brothers who lived in this marina right after the bombs fell. They were working to fix up a boat and sail up the river to find other survivors. However, they soon became very annoyed with each other’s habits, and began to despise each other. Both planned to have the other murdered on their birthday by the Mr. Handys. They also left many passive aggressive notes laying around, instead of communicating. In the kitchen, there is a lone skeleton next to a table where a birthday sweet roll sits. This is where the Mr Handys will exclaim “Happy Birthday Eugene!” and try to kill you. Seems pretty straight forward, but I have a theory.
There is supposed to be two people living here. There are two living spaces, but only one of them have a proper bed. Malcolm may have been sleeping in the bathtub filled with pillows, but I find that hard to believe. Both brothers planned to hack a Mr Handy and set it to kill their brother. But there is only one skeleton in the kitchen. Furthermore, there is only one birthday sweet roll. My theory is that there were never two brothers, but only one man. Maybe he once had a brother who died when the bombs dropped, but I don’t believe he lived in the Marina with Eugene. This explains the instance of a single sweet roll and real living space. Perhaps Eugene cobbled together the second one while he was disassociating.
Turns out, there is a second body found at Reeb Marina! Next to the house hiding behind a box is this coffin. You can see a bit of a skull poking out from behind the lid, and inside is the rest of the skeleton. It seems that this is Malcolm, the first one to meet the malfunctioning robots, and was pseudo buried by Eugene. It was when Eugene returned to the house to enjoy a whole sweet roll to himself did Malcolm’s new subroutine’s kick in. With no other human to bury Eugene, his body remains where it fell. Thanks to Reddit user EpicBeanie for the correction!
The Boylston Club is a fancy place for fancy gentlemen. That much is clear by the red carpet and podium at the front door. Passing that, going up the elevator and you enter the main draw room. Here lay dozens of skeletons, all clutching poisoned wine. This is the only location in the game with that item. Initially, you might think that all these men were murdered by poison, but that’s not quite true. Reading the only terminal in the room tells you that the Boylston Club is open only to Former Presidents, Vice Presidents, Senators, and Justices of the United States, former Governors and Lieutenant Governors of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, legitimate male heirs of members, and other distinguished gentlemen of social or intellectual worth, nominated by the membership and willing to pay an annual $500,000 remit fee. The event calendar outlines a Memoriam Gala. It’s set for a time just after the bombs fell and is open to any members still able to make it. There is also a tape inside this terminal call A Toast.
It’s closing time, gentlemen. If any of you have changed your mind, it’s time to go. James will see you out. No one? Very well. Gentlemen, it has been an honor and a privilage. Before we drink, allow me to offer a final toast. To the world that was. Mankind shall never see its like again.
So it seems that it was a decision made by each dignitary present. They decided rather than face the torn up, apocalyptic world, they would rather die proudly. Part sad, part pathetic, and wholly grim, this set piece is put together perfectly ghastly.
So there are some of my favourite examples of great story telling through the use of setting and prop placement in Fallout. Let me know what you guys think and if you have any other examples that you can think of. This is something that I find a lot of people, including myself, take for granted as part of the gaming experience. I just wanted to shed some light on the attention to detail and commitment to truth the developers had while putting together these places.