The franchise's alternate history stretches from pre-War years, to the "future of the fifties," to the decades following the destruction of the earth by nuclear war. With the goal of exploring ideas revolving around a futuristic, post-nuclear world, the game setting exists in a timeline that diverged after World War II. This fork led to a world where technology progressed quickly while maintaining the cultural norms of the mid-century.
The environment of the game world after the Fallout timeline diverged provided artists a blank slate to work with in terms of designing their futuristic version of modern day. For the alterative timeline's impact on environmental storytelling, many objects were created to look familiar to what exists in the real world and others are developed as those from the future.
Artists used the divergent timeline as inspiration to maintain a mix of vintage, familiar, modern, and futuristic aspects throughout the game world, and developers were intentional in featuring fictional aspects and real world equivalents appearing both before and after the timeline diverges.
As opposed to purely "fantastical sci-fi designs," developers considered how industrial and product design would have evolved in the alternate universe. Technology developed unevenly in the alternate universe, advanced in some ways and primitive in others, with advancements from real world history having never occurred or if similar, developed much differently. This flexibility allowed artists to depict a world with layers of history and culture on both sides of the timeline's divergence, spanning the generations in both directions from the Great War.
↑ 1.01.1Fallout Bible 6: "What was U.S./world history like before the timeline included in previous Fallout updates?" "No one has asked this yet, but I thought I would cut this question off at the pass. Fallout takes place on a future earth, in an alternate timeline. I will not be including any information on how and when it diverged - it will remain one of the mysteries of the setting. Just let it be known that it diverged after WW2, and leave it at that."
↑Leonard Boyarsky: "As Art Director, I was responsible for the look and mood of the game (as far as visuals were concerned). I came up with the idea of the "future of the fifties" setting, and had to convince everyone that that was the way to go. I also came up with the idea/design for the "Vault Boy" and the "cards" (as I called them) showing him doing all the different things in humorous ways. By the way, he's not the Pip Boy, the Pip Boy is the little guy on your Pip Boy interface. The Vault Boy was supposed to evoke the feel of Monopoly cards, and the Pip Boy was based on the Bob's Big Boy mascot." (Leonard Boyarsky Developer Profile)
↑Bethesda Softworks v Behaviour Interactive: "The FALLOUT franchise of video games draws gamers into alternate history, diverging from existing reality shortly following WWII. The various FALLOUT video games largely take place in the years following the destruction of the earth as people begin to emerge from their underground vaults into the nuclear wasteland."
↑Fallout 3 manual p. 2: "Fallout 3 presents a much grimmer reality. Imagine if, after World War II, the timeline had split. Our world forked into one branch, the Fallout universe the other. In that other branch, technology progressed at a much more impressive rate, while American society remained locked in the cultural norms of the 1950's. It was an idyllic “"world of tomorrow," filled with servant robots, beehive hairdos, and fusion-powered cars. And then in the year 2077, at the climax of a long-running war with China, it all went to hell in a globe-shattering nuclear war."
↑Fallout 3 manual p. 2: "Nuclear war. The very words conjure images of mushroom clouds, gas masks, and bewildered children ducking and covering under their school desks. But it's the aftermath of such a conflict that truly captures our imaginations, in large part because there’s no real-world equivalent we can relate to. Mankind may have witnessed the horror of the atomic bomb, but thankfully we’ve somehow succeeded in not blowing up the entire planet. At least, not yet."
↑Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel Manual p. 2: "In a future not far removed from our own, a world filled with marvel and wonder is shaken to its very foundations by the greed and destruction of mankind."
↑The Art of Fallout 4, p. 22: "BOSTON: Much of modern-day Boston's skyline consists of buildings that were constructed well after Fallout's timeline diverged from our own. The taller structures that make the city recognizable are too contemporary in their designs. That gave us a blank slate to work with in terms of designing our version of a city of tomorrow. The older historical aspects of the city were retained for authenticity, but we wanted to layer them with some futuristic architecture, as this is a type of environment that hasn't been explored yet in the Fallout universe. As you can see in these early concepts, we explored some pretty far-out ideas for just how built up and evolved our version of Boston would be. We ended up with a more balanced approach—something that felt different but was still a grounded and relatable metropolis."
↑Ferret Baudoin: "What is the fall of pre-War US? What were the fault lines? What were the real problems? And I think that's something we explored with Appalachia - not necessarily the bigger thing, but we tried to look at it regionally. And we tried to say, OK, what-why was this not working? And, you know, trying to sort of expand upon, you know: This is reality, then there's the Divergence, and then we end up in Fallout, you know, pre-War times." (Fallout for Hope - CHAD: A Fallout 76 Story Podcast Twitch stream, 12/16/2020)
↑ 10.010.1The Art of Fallout 4, p. 283: "Fallout takes place in an alternate timeline, and although there are many objects the player will find familiar, much of it is just different enough that it needs to be designed from scratch. Sometimes a table is just a table, and certainly there are tables that look like they're straight out of a vintage furniture catalog. But other times the table is from the future, and that's where we have some fun. We try to maintain a mix of the old, the familiar, the modern, and the futuristic, as that's what you find in the real world. "
↑Fallout Bible 6: "Perhaps you can answer the question of whether Fallout is set in an alternate timeline or not. By alternate timeline, I mean a world where some part of our history up to now was different then what we know. It seems many fans are inclined to believe this view. Some who claim to be "in the know" and say they've seen the original design documents for the first game support this view. However, I've noticed no such evidence in the Fallout Bible." "Fallout takes place in an alternate timeline. There's no documentation about exactly how and when it diverged (and this will never be addressed in the Fallout Bible - see above), but it did. You will have to take it on faith."
↑"Question: Sunset Sarsaparilla started production in 1918...years before the Fallout universe diverged from our own. Mistake on the part of the developers?" Joshua Sawyer: "No. Fictional brands in the Fallout universe don't have to exist only in the branched timeline." (Joshua Sawyer Formspring posts/2011)
↑"Question: were native americans annihilated in FO's divergent timeline?" Joshua Sawyer: "Not explicitly, no. There are a lot of NA tribes scattered all over the country -- and plenty individuals who are ethnically NA but do not live in NA communities -- so a fair number (percentage-wise) probably lived through the war in various ways." (Joshua Sawyer Formspring posts/2011)
↑The Art of Fallout 4, p. 283: "It's fairly easy to create fantastical sci-fi designs, but we challenged ourselves to think about how industrial and product design would have evolved in this alternate universe."
↑The Art of Fallout 3, p. 61: "Technology in the world of Fallout 3 is somewhat paradoxical in that it's incredibly advanced in some ways, and downright primitive in others."
↑The Art of Fallout 3, p. 62: "Certain technological advancements that we take for granted in our own history either did not occur, or developed along a very different path."
↑The Art of Fallout 4, p. 54: "Architectural variety is important to depict a world with layers of history and culture that span the generations both before and after the Great War."
↑The Art of Fallout 4, p. 232: "Still, this is Fallout, and there are some limitations on how advanced the tech can get; in certain ways development is quite stunted. You won't find color screens - and certainly no flat-screen technology."