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The Fallout setting exists on an alternate timeline.[1] The story elements and gameplay of the Fallout series take place within this world.

Background

The franchise's timeline stretches from pre-War years, to the "future of the fifties," to the decades following the destruction of the earth by nuclear war.[2][3] 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.[1][4] This fork led to a world where technology progressed quickly while maintaining the cultural norms of the mid-century.[5][6][7]

Timeline

To date, the chronological order of Fallout gameplay first begins in 2102 and stretches to 2287. Information is relayed via gameplay regarding years preceding, stretching back hundreds of years before the Great War event, in various locations across the former United States.

Year(s) Game Location Image
2102 - 2104
Fallout 76 Appalachia Vault76Exterior-Fallout76.png
2161
Fallout California Fo1 Necropolis Bad Ending.png
2241
Fallout 2 California Loading02.jpg
2277
Fallout 3 Washington, D.C. Monument skyline.jpg
2281
Fallout: New Vegas Mojave Desert NV Strip.png
2287
Fallout 4 Boston Massachusetts State House.png

Development inspiration

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.[8][9] 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.[10][11]

Artists used the divergent timeline as inspiration to maintain a mix of vintage, familiar, modern, and futuristic aspects throughout the game world,[10] and developers were intentional in featuring fictional aspects and real world equivalents appearing both before and after the timeline diverges.[12][13] The retro-futuristic, "golden era of science fiction" art style is predominant, but a variety of inspirations were utilized across the board to appeal to a wide audience.[14][15][16] Urban and suburban U.S. of the 1940s and 1950s also inspired some of the artists, including vehicle design, signage, architecture, and art.[17][18]

As opposed to purely "fantastical sci-fi designs," developers considered how industrial and product design would have evolved in the alternate universe.[19] Developers intended for the setting to maintain the dark atmosphere of 1950's apocalyptic prediction, balanced with humor.[20] 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.[21][22] The variation in advancement is depicted also throughout the development of weapons, robotics, and engines.[23][24] 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.[25][26]

Plot

The games revolve around the occurrence of a global nuclear event known as the Great War.[27] Worldwide shortage of resources such as petroleum and uranium resulted in the Resource Wars, a combination of conflicts between the United States and China, as well as between European powers.[28][29]

These events culminated in the breakdown of the United Nations and deployment of nuclear missiles at and by the United States.[30][31][32] Prior to this, some citizens had elected to purchase space in underground vaults, most of which shielded those within from the nuclear event.[33][27] Those who survived outside of the vaults or who emerged from underground created new communities, rebuilding in what remained of the country.[34]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Fallout 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."
  2. 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)
  3. 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."
  4. Tim Cain: "My idea is to explore more of the world and more of the ethics of a post-nuclear world, not to make a better plasma gun."
    (Chat with Tim Cain; March 9th, 2002)
  5. 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."
  6. 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."
  7. 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."
  8. 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."
  9. 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. 10.0 10.1 The 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. "
  11. 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."
  12. "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)
  13. "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)
  14. Tim Cain: "Any time one of the design team came across a picture of a weapon or piece of armor from anywhere (such as Soldier of Fortune or Ladies’ Home Journal) and it was “cool enough” to include, it was fair game. Entertaining gems have been imported from just about everywhere, hence almost everyone will find something about which to reminisce. It reminds me of Mystery Science Theater. They always say, people aren’t going to get all of our jokes, but the people who will get them will really appreciate them."
    (Tim Cain on cdmag.com)
  15. Leonard Boyarsky: "I was really influenced by The Road Warrior, The City of Lost Children, and "Brazil" in terms of movies, and the comic book series Hard Boiled."
    (Developer profile, Leonard Boyarsky)
  16. Tim Cain: "Seriously, the artists just thought that 50's tech looked cool. So they set out to make a future science that looked like what the Golden Era of science fiction thought that future science would look like (if you can follow that sentence). Vacuum tubes, ray guns, mutants, the whole works. And I think they succeeded quite well."
    (Tim Cain on Google groups 2)
  17. Tony Postma: "Urban and Sub-urban America of the 40'-50's....the cars, the signage, the art, the architecture...all of it. I already had a few books with photos and documentation of the period. Also the comic books "Big Guy and Rusty, the Boy Robot" and "Mister X" by Dean Motter help with the machinery and the mood."
    (Tony Postma on Origins of Fallout)
  18. Tim Cain: "I don't think I can answer this, since so many people has a hand in the design and scripting, and it seems everyone put in their own little in-joke or reference. I mean, I'm surprised by some of the things in the game! But some of the movies the inspired us were Road Warrior, Brazil, City of Lost Children, Blade Runner, Batman, Ghost in the Shell, On the Beach and of course, Star Wars. A lot of adventure ideas were variations on things I've seen in MUD's about 7 years ago at the peak of my playing. As far as books, oddly enough the book "Lord of Light" by Zelazny was an inspiration.'"
    (Tim Cain on Google groups)
  19. 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."
  20. Tim Cain on rpgcodex.net
  21. 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."
  22. 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."
  23. Joshua Sawyer: "In the Fallout universe, I think that the military appeal of weaponry that uses a small number of more-or-less universal ammunition types would be great. Today, we have NATO standards so that allies armies can share ammunition. But what if you could use the same ammunition type for powering a sniper rifle that you'd use for a devastating close-range weapon (e.g. a Microfusion Cell powering a Laser Rifle or a Plasma Rifle)? For a military force in the field, the flexibility of that would be immense. Anyway, I considered the EWs in F:NV to have reached the point where they were starting to replace conventional weapons, but had not yet completely eclipsed them -- sort of like the early days of firearms, when they were still being used concurrently with bows."
    (Josh Sawyer on Tumblr blog 1)
  24. Joshua Sawyer: "I like vacuum tube tech and I think it pushes some interesting ideas, but it feels secondary in the series. One of the interesting properties of vacuum tubes is that they aren’t really affected by EMPs, such as those produced by a nuclear bomb blast. Some Soviet MiG-25s used vacuum tubes dominantly or exclusively, which would theoretically allow them to fly in the wake of a blast (assuming the pilots weren’t killed by radiation). Still, the robots in the series are affected by EMP grenades and similar attacks, so the state of technology isn’t represented consistently."
    (Josh Sawyer on Tumblr blog 2)
  25. 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."
  26. 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."
  27. 27.0 27.1 Fallout 76 loading screens: "On October 23, 2077, in what came to be known as the "Great War", the world was engulfed in nuclear fire. In the United States, a fortunate minority escaped to the safety of great underground Vaults."
  28. Fallout intro: "In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth."
  29. Fallout 4 loading screens: "On the morning of Saturday, October 23, 2077 America was consumed by the flames of nuclear war. The war with China had finally reached its cataclysmic conclusion."
  30. The Switchboard terminal entries; Central terminal, DEFCON Status - 2077
  31. Scott Campbell: "The nuclear Armageddon in the back-story was between the US and China. After shipping several people asked me why China and not the old standby, the Soviet Union. I made the choice when I remembered experiences with Oleg, a Moscow developer I worked with months before when I was assistant-producing a typing game. Once, in the middle of a phone conversation, I heard some muffled bangs, and the phone went quiet. When I asked him what the noise was, he replied, 'Oh, it was just the Russian mob firing their guns in the street.' I thought he was joking - he wasn't. After that, I had a really hard time believing that the once mighty USSR would be in a position to threaten the world any time soon. So I turned to the next major communist country that typifies the East: China."
    (Scott Campbell, Origins of Fallout)
  32. Capitol Post terminal entries; Capital Post Top Stories -- July 27, 2052, United Nations Disbanded!
  33. Vault-Tec University terminal entries; Vault-Tec mission statement terminal, Introduction
  34. Fallout: New Vegas intro: "When atomic fire consumed the earth, those who survived did so in great, underground vaults. When they opened, their inhabitants set out across ruins of the old world to build new societies, establish new villages, forming tribes."
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