Qt3 Classic Game Club: Fallout

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[Editor’s note: Every two weeks, we’ll pick a classic game to play and discuss. Then the choice of the next game will be made by a randomly selected participant from the current discussion. It’s like a book club, but with videogames. We’d love to have you join us. Register for the forums and hop into the discussion! This week’s choice, by Stefan “Desslock” Janicki, is Fallout.]

As a lover of classic games, choosing just one to inflict upon you was extremely difficult. I narrowed down my choices to two games which I think everyone should have the experience of playing — they’re among the best games ever created and were influential, and yet neither was a significant commercial success at the time of release and they’ve proven surprisingly difficult to replicate well. They are also surprisingly similar games, despite being from different genres.

My choice is the original Fallout, developed and published by Interplay Productions in 1997. Several of the principal developers would leave Interplay to form Troika Games, while other members of the team who remained at Interplay would go on to release Fallout 2, Icewind Dale and Planescape Torment under the “Black Isle” Division that was formed shortly after the release of Fallout. Fallout was a spiritual successor to Wasteland, an earlier game published by EA and developed by Interplay founder Brian Fargo – Interplay couldn’t get the IP rights to produce a Wasteland sequel, so it instead choose to develop its own post-apocalyptic setting. Fallout was also originally supposed to use Steve Jackson Games’ GURPS rules system – a popular and versatile pen and paper RPG system at the time – but disagreements during development ultimately resulted in Interplay creating its own system, which it called SPECIAL, which turned out to be one of best RPG development systems ever created.

After the jump, the game not chosen.

The game I didn’t choose was Jagged Alliance 2, which I hope someday will show up in someone else’s choices, as it’s a great strategy/wargame/RPG hybrid. I also thought about choosing Fallout Tactics, which is a JA2 clone set in the Fallout universe, but it’s clearly a lesser game than either of the other two.

So why Fallout? Because Fallout is still important, Fallout is still relevant, Fallout is still almost unique, and Fallout is still a hell of a lot of fun. And two recent development made Fallout seem apt — the pending release of Wasteland 2, a sequel to the game that was the spiritual predecessor of Fallout, so it’s a good time to delve back into the apocalypse. And secondly because the game was recently re-released on Steam after an absence of some time after the IP rights were fully acquired by Bethesda and previous distribution arrangements expired. As an added bonus, the new Steam versions incorporate widescreen and high resolutions through a patch that was integrated by Jason “Loonyboi” Bergman on his own, incorporating some hard work from the mod community in seamless fashion. So I’ve been dying for an excuse to play it again to check out the new integrated higher resolutions. Fallout is also one of the most replayable games of all time, given the variety of characters you can create and the number of meaningful choices you have to make, so even if you’ve played it before – hell, even if you’ve played it several times – chances are there’s still a novel experience waiting for you if you choose some non-traditional development and roleplaying options.

Fallout is one of the few computer RPGs that really affords players the opportunity to roleplay personalized characters through diverse experiences. You can play a gibbering moron who will actually be unable to intelligently communicate with NPCs (your speech options will just be a bunch of grunts), a suave diplomat who can actually negotiate through the game eschewing combat (not easy or always practical, but it’s an option until the end of the game), an amoral character or a noble one, a master sniper or someone who couldn’t hit the side of a barn and instead relies upon large explosive weapons or heavy clubs – it’s all possible. I’ll provide some helpful suggestions to options below, but if you’ve played through Fallout once or several times before, I encourage you to try to take skills, perks and abilities that are novel — some options will make the game more difficult, but they’ll offer a rewarding experience that you probably didn’t experience previously. Fallout offers an almost unmatched diversity of roleplaying experiences by giving you tremendous freedom to do what you want, however you want, and to resolve tasks in a variety of ways to suit the personality of the character you’ve chosen to roleplay — so if you think a “roleplaying game” is just one that offers different character class abilities, Fallout offers an opportunity to show you what a true roleplaying game actually offers.

Where to get it?
– It used to be available on GoG, so if you bought it previously you can play that version (you’ll have to download the high-def and widescreen mods on your own), but it’s no longer available on GoG to new purchasers;
– Steam – available for $9.99 – I wish it was lower, but it does have the new higher resolution/widescreen mod seamlessly integrated. If you’d prefer to play the game as it was originally released, you can play it in “classic form” through the Steam launcher too.

Desired Patch:
– The Steam version (and the version previously available on GoG) is actually the censored UK/EU version of the game, which eliminated the ability to kill child NPCs by stripping them out of the game altogether. You can easily restore the kids using this patch) which I encourage you to do, since you should play the game as the developers intended, and the absence of the kids makes some NPC conversations a little wonky.
– If you’re going to play the game from a GoG version or the original disks, you can also get additional patches at the same site (No Mutants Allowed) to add the HD/widescreen Res support.

Tips to help you to get started:
– the interface is clunky and takes a while to get accustomed to – particularly right-clicking to bring up a menu of options, such as “look” — you need to get used to using that menu, however, as it offers actions that are necessary for some quests (such as placing objects from inventory on another person or object) and “looking” can add some good additional information.
– the manual is one of my favorites ever – aside from containing a lot of information on character development options that can be useful, it’s also just an entertaining read, and has some interesting information in the appendices on the actual effects of nuclear blasts, etc. You can find a copy in your Steam installation folder.
– the time limit you’re given at the start of the game is REAL — you must keep that time limit in mind at all times, as if you are unable to complete your quest for a water purifier within the time limit, well, things won’t end happily. There are ways within the game to extend deadlines, but there is always a cost to those choices.
– Fallout is constantly offering you choices that have real consequences. Don’t be afraid to make decisions but be aware that you can’t retract them and choose alternatives in most cases. Worthwhile saving the game before you explore each new town or area, in case you happen to really dislike the results of some choices you make and want to take a mulligan. But I encourage you to live with your choices and embrace the roleplaying opportunities.
– If you want an easier experience, be a sniper type and pick “small guns” and “speechcraft” and “energy weapons” as tag skills, and “Gifted” as a trait, and use targeted aim a lot and try to hit creatures through the eye. But if you’ve played the game before, try a different sort of character. “Luck” is the type of attribute that is usually of dubious utility and makes sense to marginalize in RPGs — that’s NOT the case in Fallout, where the Luck attribute offers some of the very best rewards as you’ll encounter far more beneficial (or just weird) random encounters in the game — you can run into Dr. Who or other sci-fi surprises.

Finally: I can’t help offering my own time capsule — my original review of Fallout for Gamespot, from almost 17 years ago. I hated the editing of the review (I didn’t yet have as much clout as a reviewer to effectively spar with editors), but it still sums up what makes the game so great, and doesn’t contain spoilers — so if you’re on the fence about whether or not to jump into this choice for the Classic Game Club, check out the review to help make a more informed decision. The score I gave it was 8.7/10 — now that would seem low in this age of rating inflation, but at the time that was the highest score I’d given to a game, and it would have gotten an even higher rating if it wasn’t so buggy when initially released (although it was nowhere near as buggy as its sequel, Fallout 2, would turn out to be upon initial release).

I hope you give Fallout a chance, or another playthrough since no doubt many of you have played it, and I look forward to reading your impressions.