A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power and have appeared throughout the Fallout series.
In the real world, transistors are a fundamental building block of modern electronic devices and systems. The transistor revolutionized the field of electronics and paved the way for smaller and cheaper radios, calculators, and computers. Most transistors are made from very pure silicon in their manufacture, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.
Computers in the Fallout universe are more cumbersome than the ones in our world and most still use monochromatic, text-based displays. The personal computer as it exists in our world was never fully developed due to these limitations on compactness, and some computers still exist as large mainframes that can take up whole rooms. The users access them via terminals.
Nonetheless, some mainframes are highly advanced in terms of processing power, such as those capable of running artificial intelligence. Microchips also do appear to exist and can be seen among common household items, super computers, and energy weapons alike throughout the series.
- In a Fallout 3 random encounter, slaves that have been forced to wear slave collars can be found in the Wasteland. The Lone Wanderer can attempt to free them by disabling the collars, and if they pass a science check will mention tweaking a transistor to disarm them. Additionally, a malfunctioning Mister Handy can have its basic operations transistors removed, disabling it permanently.
- Robert House says "Don't let the video screens and computer terminals fool you. I'm flesh and blood, not silicon." In the computer and electronics industry, silicon is near exclusively used in the manufacture of semiconductors and transistors.
- The Cabot House terminal entries directly mention transistors existing in 2023: "I've been experimenting with some of the new transistors, and it looks possible to make a portable version of the Abremalin field generator." The Listening Post Bravo terminal entries mention a transistor radio: "four weeks stuck in this bunker with only military rations, old magazines and a transistor radio to keep me company."
- One of Proctor Quinlan's possible responses about the Sole Survivor having to track down Paladin Danse mentions a "transistor radio". If the Sole Survivor expresses regret at having to hunt down Danse, Quinlan is surprised by the sentiment, then states, "doubtful. I wouldn't 'miss' a synth any sooner than I'd miss a transistor radio."
- The Fallout 76 quest The Messenger requires a memory transistor for completion. The Scoot's shack terminal entries mention a "transistor radio" manufactured by General Atomics International.
- The 2002 Fallout Bible does not mention transistors, but does mention "vacuum tubes" as part of the aesthetic as an element of Fallout world-building.[Non-game 1] Vacuum tubes or valves were precursors to the transistor before being almost entirely supplanted by them in modern electronics, however in Fallout's alternative timeline they were used concurrently.
- The Reavers say various statements about the transistor, including, "For the glory of the transistor" and "Wait! Is this transistor reverse biased?" The Junction City enforcers describe the Reavers as worshipers of silicon.
Behind the scenes
- Around June 2003, a conversation ensued between developer Joshua Sawyer on the Interplay Forums and a user on the No Mutants Allowed forums. Sawyer cites examples where transistors and integrated circuits can be found in Fallout. He also notes that he was unfamiliar with any developer at the time who used the lack of transistor to describe Fallout's setting.[Non-game 2][Non-game 3][Non-game 4]
- In a followup in March 2019, Sawyer maintained his position on transistors in Fallout, reiterating how robots in the series are affected by EMP grenades "so the state of technology isn’t represented consistently."[Non-game 5]
- A common but unsubstantiated claim is that the "transistor was invented in Fallout in 2067" or was never invented in Fallout. Variants of this unsupported claim appeared as early as 2008,[Non-game 6][Non-game 7] and the myth has been repeated verbatim by other sources, including a Vice article,[Non-game 8] but the 2067 date is not supported by in-game evidence or by developer commentary.
- Developer Joel Burgess mentions transistors and world-building during the Q&A session in a November 4, 2016 live-stream at Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.[Non-game 9]
- In January 2018, YouTuber Matt Barton, in a personal interview, chatted with developer Leonard Boyarsky on his past work on Fallout 1 and 2. In response to the question about what were the inspirations behind the very unique 1950s sci-fi theme for Fallout and the transition away from a pure Mad Max style, Boyarsky mentioned how he initially starting calling on vacuum tubes for their aesthetic value.[Non-game 10] Later on, Boyarsky mentioned his affinity for vacuum tubes to the team and was receptive to Tim Cain's idea of taking into account EMP susceptibility.[Non-game 11]
- Transistor on Wikipedia
- Semiconductor device fabrication on Wikipedia
- Circuitry, AER14 prototype, scrap electronics, blue memory module, NavCom parts, plasma transformer, red memory module, Vault 15 computer parts, yellow memory module
- The Lone Wanderer: "Okay. I see how this thing works. I just need to tweak this transistor here..."
Slave: "I'm alive! You did it!"
- Fallout 3 message box transcriptions#Random Encounters
- Robert House: "Don't let the video screens and computer terminals fool you. I'm flesh and blood, not silicon."
(Robert House's dialogue)
- Electronics section in the silicon article on Wikipedia
- Cabot House terminal entries; Terminal, 09/05/2023
- The Sole Survivor: "He'll be missed."
Quinlan: " "
(Quinlan's dialogue) Note: This is an excerpt of a conversation between the Sole Survivor, Quinlan, and Haylen.
- Scoot's shack terminal entries; Terminal, Ghost Field Research #1
- Vacuum tube on Wikipedia
- Vacuum tubes can be found as junk items in Fallout 4 and Fallout 76, and can be seen in certain pieces of technology, such as radios, in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas.
- Reaver: "For the glory of the transisto.r "
"Wait! Is this transistor reverse biased?"
(MIS 15 Speech.txt)
- Enforcer: "The fools worship silicon."
(MIS 15 Speech.txt)
- Fallout Bible 8: "This theme translates into the "look" and the actual physics of the world (Torg-style, if you've ever played Torg) - so anyway, you get giant radioactive monsters, pulp science with lasers, blasters, vacuum tubes, big expensive cars with fins, Art Deco architecture, robots with brains in domes atop their heads, lots of tape reel computer machines, the whole "atomic horror" feel, and it explains the artistic style of the interface."
Joshua Sawyer: In terms of your damage categories, I do think there needs to be a few more. EMP, in particular, is different from electricity in a way I believe is significant in a game with robotic enemies. I also think that ballistic damage and armor is different enough that it demands it's own category. I don't necessarily see the benefit for making a character right or left handed.
User Saint_Proverbius: EMP damage? Ummm.. Imagine a future where the transistor had never been invented. I wish I could remember which Fallout developer said that to describe Fallout's setting, but it's a fairly major concept! EMP really only works well on integrated circuits, re: transistor stuff, which aren't part of Fallout's setting.
(Sawyer and other views from NMA, post on the No Mutants Allowed forum, June 19, 2003)
Joshua Sawyer reply to Saint_Proverbius: Let me know if you found out which dev said that, because EMP grenades wreak utter havok on robots all over Fallout and Fallout 2. I walk into the Glow, throw an EMP grenade, and robots drop like flies in a blast furnace. It's pretty clear that ICs are used in robots all over the Fallout world. However, I think that a future Fallout title should take into account that some models of our traditional friends like Mr. Handy and Floating Eye Bot should be made with vaccuum tube tech to reflect the necessity of robots operating in the wake of atomic EMP blasts.
(Sawyer and NMA, the next chapter, post on the No Mutants Allowed forum, June 26, 2003)
- J.E. Sawyer's responses on the Interplay Forums (Partial archive). (Original link), posted on June 17, 2003
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 tumblr post
- November 17, 2008 comment from the /r/gaming subreddit
- September 26, 2011 comment from the /r/Fallout subreddit.
- Just How Realistic is Fallout 4's Post-Apocalypse Anyway? December 28, 2015 article from Vice.com "In our world, the transistor was invented in 1947 but it didn't appear in Fallout until a decade before the Great War in 2067."
Joel Burgess: So transistors are part of the canonical, like it's from Fallout 1, that culture never invented transistors and part of that influences why you see big tube things. The interfaces in Fallout 1 and 2 are engineered in a way that, in a world without transistors, still gets really advanced technology. How is their technology different, by making this one butterfly effect change? This is an argument that I had, many, many times, with people working on 3 and 4, it's like that transistor decision about the world... That rule isn't just about the mechanics of "how do I build like a fusion car without a transistor, or whatever?" What does that say about the cultural priorities of the people who live in that world? So, for instance, one of the things about the setting of Fallout, for me is miniaturization of technology - it's not a priority. Right? For us, miniaturizing is really important, but people kind of forget. It's a common thing that people who have just played Fallout lightly don't realize is like, 'Oh yeah, technology stopped in the 50s.' No, actually, technology didn't stop in the 50s, it evolved beyond what we can do right now. And there's a lot of super sci-fi stuff in there, but just the expression of it is different. The argument I would get into with people is about security cameras. Level designers were building space and put CCTV cameras all around the building and everything like "Ah, this is great." No, no, no, no, no, look, this is somebody's house. Alright, in the world of Fallout, a miniaturized camera - they exist, but it would cost like 15 million dollars. I could go to Best Buy and buy one for 15 or 150 for a whole house setup of miniaturized cameras. But in their world, a camera that's miniaturized to that extent, would be extremely exotic technology that would only be used [in] like a super-high grade military complex or government applications. For somebody's who's coming into that canon and be[ing] like "Ah, I'm gonna make a thing and I've done levels before and I used cam..." and I'm like phbt, no, no, no, no... So you have these rules about the world. And that thing about the cameras, man, I got so tired of that argument because I knew I sound[ed] like a crazy peron every time. Right? But it's just this little thing, y'know, and I was like "why [are] aluminum bottles not the primary bottles, it's like an expression of that world...
(Industry Guest: Joel Burgess From Ubisoft @1:27:30 Streamed live on Nov 4, 2016)
Leonard Boyarsky: We started the game, we're like "Oh, we want to make a Road Warrior-esque Mad Max kind of video game. So we just started making that game. I didn't put a lot of thought into it [...] just going to other wo-this is what we're gonna make. And it wasn't until...oh, I don't know six, eight months in, it couldn't have been a year, that this occurred to me, and I don't know why. I've tried to track back and find reasons for why this thing came to me while I was driving home one night. I just thought, "That would be really cool, if it was like this 1950s thing." I think it was a combination of things I've been able to kind of figure out."
(Matt Chat 396: Leonard Boyarsky on Fallout @3:30 Published on January 27, 2018
Boyarsky: So (and I said this at the talk too) when I came in and said, 'This is what we're gonna do.': we really didn't change anything that we'd already done. We, just from that moment forward, started building all this 50s stuff into it. So there's kind of this mix of post-apocalyptic "Road Warrior" even the original "Alien" influence. And then all of a sudden you get all this 1950s stuff and that kind of all combined to make this. And a lot of the things we figured out about it...like the fact that they never went beyond transistors, they stayed with the vacuum tubes: started with me going, "We need a lotta vacuum tubes! Everything would look cooler if it had vacuum tubes on it!" And Tim's like, "Well, you know if they never did, if they never went over to transistors, this would make it so that you wouldn't be as susceptible to an EMP blast..." I'm like, "Oh that's great!" So, it was really this organic growing of the IP or growing of this kind of idea for what we wanted to do. But if you asked me at the time, I...probably had no idea or I couldn't have told you why I thought it was such a great idea. Now, luckily, we were at that point where it looks like they were happy with the game we were making...
(Matt Chat 396: Leonard Boyarsky on Fallout @4:59 Published on January 27, 2018)