. . . with apologies to Cormac McCarthy.
Recently, rumors started circulating that Bethesda may be considering the city of Boston, Massachusetts, as the primary setting for the next Fallout game, theoretically the 4th numbered sequel. Though this rumor hasn’t been confirmed, and is contrary to earlier statements, but it seems plausible. Not only was The City on a Hill obliquely referenced in Fallout 3 via the mysterious civilization known as The Commonwealth (and “The Institute”, theoretically a scientific society emerging from MIT), but considering Bethesda’s familiarity with the Eastern seaboard, it makes sense for them to set the game in a location that’s within their geographic wheelhouse.
Last week I proffered an editorial argument about the aspects of the Fallout series that are uniquely Western, my conclusion being that setting games on the East Coast carries with it a loss of identity for what makes Fallout so refreshing in a genre quickly becoming inundated with rivals, rehashes, and pretenders.
It seemed a rather fruitful topic, and I was delighted to see so much feedback from Fallout Fans. After all, this is “The Dialogue Tree”, not “The Screed Reeds” or the “Mahogany Monologues”, and in the end I like to get a conversation going above all else!
But to make my opinion clear, I did like Fallout 3, especially at first.
Like many longtime fans of the series, that initial gameplay trailer gave me withdrawal symptoms I didn’t even know I had; when I popped that disc into my tray late 2008, I went through an almost Jet-induced Fallout frenzy, playing it at all hours of the night for two weeks straight while losing plenty of sleep in the process.
But as with my eyelids on the subsequent workdays, the magic of the game didn’t hold up over time. Or at least not like it had with the originals. Hence my prior diatribe was as much a search for what exactly it was that made them (and in my opinion, New Vegas) superior as it was a pronouncement of the Western influences I think may be the cause.
Also, I admit a main beef I have with Boston specifically is, as a “cradle of American history” there’s an almost certain chance we’ll see the Enclave again. After defeating them twice (thrice if you count Broken Steel separately), it’s past time to let the faction die already.
However, just because Fallout 3 has tarnished, doesn’t make it terrible. It has plenty of material worth exploring in future sequels, I just don’t think this means the Western stories must die out to make way for them. If anything, I’m of the mind that there are now two different Fallout series at this point; one focused on the East, one the West, both equally valid . . . but then, I’m getting ahead of myself.
For what I’m discussing today is nothing short of pure, unadulterated (but hopefully still informed) speculation! The time-honored tradition of fans everywhere! Looking at something we enjoy far too much and saying, “What if this were to happen next?”
So in this spirit, I’m going to hop into my rebuilt Chrysalis Highwayman here, and take a virtual road trip through a post-nuclear America!
We’re searching for spots that not only could be viable venues for the series, but should be. Locations that for whatever reason, call it fate, call it karma, but for whatever reason (Ray), are places where setting the next Fallout just makes sense.
I’ve got plenty of energy cells in the tank, some Sugar Bombs to munch on, and the radio’s picking up songs from the 1950’s for some reason. Well, the motor’s running- so hop in and Away. We. Go!
First stop . . .
New York City?!
(Get a rope!)
Yes, yes, I know. I just spent a whole article saying western states are the heart of Fallout. But aside from the plot considerations I alluded to, there’s a major reason why the Boston rumor has as much credibility as it does.
Not only is the Northeast mostly untapped in the Fallout world, but considering the popularity of the game (and the supposed “lackluster” success of New Vegas) a direct, linear progression from Fallout 3 makes so much sense from a sales perspective that Bethesda would have to be pretty dumb to not follow up with Fallout: New Fan Service. Say what you will about their abilities as game designers – lord knows I have – they’re damn smart businessmen.
It seems that’s what happens when you dump all your points into Barter and Luck!
My argument for New York as opposed to Boston is simple: why settle for the opening act, when you’re really waiting for the headlining band? Like John Lennon said, New York City IS the Rome of the modern world, and there’s little reason this status would’ve changed by the time the bombs fell, so it seems inevitable that a Fallout game will get here eventually. If there’s going to be (ideally) alternating locations for the Fallout series, some in the East and some in the West, let’s just get to the Manhattan Project everyone’s expecting!
Plus, there’s a solid (and practical, as I’m sure it saved available memory) level design concept of Fallout 3‘s D.C. ruins – the collapsed architecture meant much of the area had to be navigated through Metro tunnels – which could be used again in the Big Apple’s vast network of subways and sewers. Not to mention the potential for local flavor and the film references certain to be involved. Off the top of my head you’ve got: Ghoulish remnants of the Mafia, a Raider occupied Wall Street, riffs on The Warriors, King Kong, among various movies, and those giant mutated sewer gators we keep hearing about!
There is a serious issue though. A demolished New York is simply overdone, not just in pop culture, but specifically in gaming. Post-apocalyptic (or near enough for government work) versions of the city that never sleeps are EVERYWHERE. Crysis 2, Spider-Man Web of Shadows, [PROTOTYPE](both 1 and 2), Infamous, and even early levels in Modern Warfare 3; I’ve seen the crumbling skyscrapers of Manhattan so many times that I could tell the level modelers where to place the rubble.
On the other hand, this familiarity could be a strength. That sense of loss that came from watching American history so thoroughly wiped out in Fallout 3, well, we’ve seen New York suffer from so many Godzilla Threshold attacks over the years that the fictional concept is as redundant as putting a blindfold on Helen Keller; the emotional baggage might be lessened, is my point. But then, after that thing with the DC Metro ads, Bethesda might be more cautious making a game featuring a virtual New York filled with collapsed skyscrapers (for what should be obvious reasons).
So, to mitigate that PR damage, let’s just take everything I said about New York, drive across a tottering G.W. Bridge and settle for New Jersey, shall we? It’s not like this is the first time anyone’s done so.
Actually, if the plot centers on a G.E.C.K. gone wrong, where a “Garden of Eden” in the Garden State mutates out of control? That’s not too bad; it could even steal some of the thunder from The Last of Us. You also get literal Jersey Devils of course, and we get to see the cast of The Jersey Shore mutate further thanks to radiation . . .
Heck, if the world map were large enough you could easily do both, with Manhattan being a central “D.C. Ruins Rubble-zone” to a surrounding “Capital Wasteland” consisting of Newark and the other Four Burroughs. Meanwhile the DLC gets set in Atlantic City for a Sierra Madre-like gambling den, Albany for some upstate action, and if you head up the coastline, oh hey, look at that! Boston.
New York City
Neo New Knickerbockerton?
The combined New York/New Jersey region is still missing the “Western” aspect – you could crash that Freighter from Fallout 2 into Staten Island to transplant some of it, *cough*lost-plot-thread-just-waiting-to-be-used*cough* – but the same goes for Boston. Similarly, both locales have roughly equivalent amounts of history to draw plot seeds from. New York is just bigger, and could be better as a result, especially if you tied in Boston as DLC, covering both.
Besides, setting Fallout 4 in the city The Dodgers ditched would allow for Fallouts 3 and 4 to mirror Fallouts 1 and 2 in terms of geographic relocation trends (just heading north and a bit east). And if the next game IS set in Boston, do you honestly think there won’t be DLC in NYC? I’m just advocating for a reversal of the inexorable progression, really.
Anyway, we’ve dallied in the Gotham long enough. We’re not trying to be Batman here.
Time to drive on south, visit our friends in Megaton for a spell – looks like Moira opened up a coffee shop, it’s called Grind Zero (bah-dum-psh!) – and keep on rambling on.
Continuing southerly down the I-95, we turn west before we hit Ghoul infested Florida (and that’s what is was before the war). After a spending the night in a decaying Nuka-Cola factory in Atlanta, we continue west along the I-20 for a spell, turning south once more as we hit that curvy, ladylike river, Missus Ippi.
This eventually brings us to . . .
Picking a particular point in The South to use is tricky. While Fallout 3 was set in Washington, D.C., meaning it was on the southern side of the Mason-Dixon line, Columbia isn’t really representative of what most conceive of as “The South”. To differentiate it further, you have to make like Inception and go deeper. So, like in Live and Let Die, we go from one “New” to another, from the York to the Orleans!
Unlike other parts of “The South”, the outsider’s (read: Northerner’s) image of Louisiana isn’t all racism and hillbillies in a bog filled with as much Southern animosity as moonshine. Thanks to N’awlins, it’s also wild parties, delicious spicy food, Dixieland Jazz, and outrageously revealing costumes on loose women enjoying the aforementioned. There’s plenty of potential for diverse locations – deep marshes filled irradiated swamp water juxtaposed against the flaring laser-lights of a neo french quarter – new monsters – giant, exploding, mutant craw fish, (and Gators again) – and even a new currency – Mardi Gras beads of course!
Cajun and Creole culture would make fine replacements for that “unique personality” of the Southwest I mentioned last time, while the Voodoo traditions supply the requisite “kooky mysticism”. Voodoo in Fallout would be especially interesting, thanks to all the “zombies” walking around in the form of Ghouls. Of course, there’s the touchy issue of post-Katrina New Orleans being used as virtual site of total devastation, but A) it was done already in Infamous 2, and B) Fallout 3 showed a completely destroyed Washington D.C. – once you do that, what more you could do to offend people, I mean seriously.
The major problem is Point Lookout, which already covered much of this ground (er, marsh), right down to the steamboats and inbred antagonists. While setting a complete game here and embracing the entirety of the region’s diversity would offset this, it still seems like more time should pass before people would regard a Fallout: Swamp Thing as anything other than a greatly expanded side story. However, that seems to be the popular opinion of New Vegas, so I guess it really comes down to how it’s handled. It would just have to have one hell of a plot to convince Bethesda, methinks.
So with the chances of a swampland mystery dashed against the hard reality of marketable differentiation, it’s time to Go West My Boy! Go west!
Driving along in the Highwayman, we continue out of the deltas and the marshes along the I-10, dodging gunfire from drunken ghouls after skipping out on a bar tab.
It isn’t long before we head right in to where the stars at night, are big and bright . . .
Deep in the (Big) Heart of Texas!
Yeah, Texas. Where the West meets the South. The home of all George Strait’s exes would make a perfect setting for Fallout. You not only get the intensely independent (often aggressive) patriotism of the state, but also keep the Western desert culture, too. However it comes with a unique Texan twang mixed in to it all.
I’m imagining Raider sniper fire from abandoned oil derricks while I herd Brahmin in a Ten Gallon hat here. Bighorner (or hell, Super Mutant) rodeos. Former Caesar’s Legion members putting their Big-5 Armor to use and actually playing football! Still to the death of course – this is Texas, they take football seriously.
Besides, the place just feels right, you know?
Plus, any game set here could reestablish the Desert Rangers, the coolest faction from New Vegas (originally from Fallout‘s progenitor, Wasteland), as an independent burgeoning power thanks to Tycho, a ranger from the original Fallout, having been this way before.
In fact, the Lone Star State makes so MUCH inherent sense for a Fallout that it’s been done! The best left forgotten Brotherhood of Steel was in Texas, exploring the cities of Carbon and Los Ybanez. However, even considering the game is non-canon (due to non-quality), a revisit to the area without heading into the panhandle would prevent crossover conflict.
Even ignoring BoS, there are still a couple concerns that give me pause. First, as the saying goes, everything’s bigger here, and I’m primarily referring to the landscape. To do any Texan game properly, you’d either need an immense overworld map, which would certainly cause memory usage concerns, or you’d have to pick a core city to center it around, which would lose the appeal of such a large expanse. If you go with the logical latter option though, which single city do you pick when they all have excellent concepts imbedded into them?
San Antonio works if for no reason than having the Alamo (probably a Brotherhood base), you could easily spin the “Keep Austin Weird” ad campaign into a literal plot involving mad genetic science, and Dallas/Fort Worth could work as it has the largest metropolitan infrastructure. But if I had to choose one city, it’s Houston. Not only does nearby Trinity Bay allows for pleasantly warm radioactive swimming, but because (as many point out) of the NASA connection – a plot centered around the nascent space program of the Old World has so many possibilities that it would be a shame to skip it.
Still, the bigger issue I see with Texas is one of long term storytelling. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a proponent of endings – definitive conclusions create potency – and this goes for Fallout as well. Somewhere down the long and lonesome road, the journeys of our Chosen Vault Dwelling Wanderers should end.
But how? And more importantly for this article, where?
Well, consider the (as of New Vegas) continuing Eastward expansion of the NCR and the theoretical Westward expansion of the Lyon-led East Coast Brotherhood of Steel; you have the perfect setup for an ultimate conclusion between the two factions – or three if you factor in Walking Texan Desert Rangers. THAT conflict sure would make for an interesting ultimate battle now wouldn’t it? Especially since they’re all (pretty much) “good” factions, creating a maximum moral quandary factor rather than an obvious choice of siding between the “flawed, but mostly decent guys” and the “indisputably not-nice puppy kickers”.
The logical site of this theoretical end war to determine the fate of Fallout forever would be in the middle of the slowly rebuilding nation, and the natural spot considering all of the other factors would be . . . ring-a-ding-ding, baby! Texas.
So while I DO want to see a game in the state of Big Hair and Bigger Guns, I also don’t want it to be just yet, since it doesn’t just make sense for a Fallout game, so much as it does for the Last Fallout Game.
Until then, it’s probably best to heed Will Ferrel’s advice, and not mess with Texas.
With grandiose dreams still fresh in the mind, let’s hop back into the Highwayman and head due north.
After putting some down some miles while munching on some Gecko meat we bagged near Witchtown, Kansas, where they’ve been burning folks at the stake, one of those giant, hundred-mile wide cyclones I’ve heard so much about heads our way out of ‘braska (is it carrying a farm house with it?)
Looks like we have to head west yet again, slowly chugging along steep hills on the I-70 (come on baby, hold together!) until the hills stop having eyes and become damned mountains, and we arrive at . . .
Rocky Mountain High! Colorado!
(and its subsequent Springs)
Colorado as a setting for the next Fallout is all about practicality, really.
If there’s a spot that assuredly survived World War 3 intact, it’s the NORAD base built under Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. The installation is ripe for a different take on what happens when old-world government endures (as opposed to The Enclave’s turn to genocide), and when you mull over the fact that they could still have access to a nuclear arsenal, well, that’s a whole plot right there! Also, Nikola Tesla once had a lab in Colorado Springs. Who’s to say you can’t find an old Deathray design but actually build it now that the tech has caught up to his vision?
But wait, there’s more!
Most of the other major cities and sites of Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Boulder and Denver, have quite a bit of the design work done already! The state was to have been heavily featured in the original Fallout 3, otherwise known by the codename Van Buren, after all, and much of the pre-production work was finished by Black Isle Studios before its untimely cancellation.
While many major ideas ended up in New Vegas (including Caesar’s Legion), there’s still quite a lot of interesting stuff yet to be culled from both Van Buren and even Tactics (which is non-canon) – including Vault Zero, the center for the Vault-Tec Corporation – that can be given a fair shake now.
Additionally, there’s the behemoth in the room: setting Fallout 4 in Colorado would not only allow for a visual change of pace – other than Operation Anchorage we’ve yet to see serious snowfall, radioactive or otherwise – but presumably the next game Bethesda makes uses Skyrim‘s engine, so why not use its assets? They could save a lot of time and effort (read: money) in the art department by cobbling together another mountainous wintery region out of the one they just made! Thus leaving them more time to focus on more important stuff, like game balance, bugs, and good endings!
As with Louisiana, the problem with Colorado is contrast from previous games. While buffeting the player with blizzards would be (mostly) unique to Fallout, it’s not like anyone’s forgetting Skyrim any time soon. On top of that, many of the better concepts that could be used – a pristine military installation with access to gobs of the Pre-War tech, and active nuclear missiles silos – were touched upon in Old World Blues and The Lonesome Road respectively.
So unfortunately, despite the practicality, we’re going to have to head on out of the Centennial State. If only we can get the danged engine to turn on this blasted Highwayman!
Come on, ignite. You can do it. You can do it. . . there it goes!
Uh-oh. Even though I got the damn thing to start, it looks like we’re running out of fuel. We’ll never make it to Seattle in this situation!
With the mutagenic coffee supply turning all the bohemians into Bone-Hooligans, it’s fascinating layout next to Puget Sound, and it’s native tribe, “Hawks by the Sea”, Seattle would have been a perfect spot to end this road trip!
Considering our dire straits though – we’re going to have to try to coast down the mountains while dodging leftover NCR landmines in the road – I’m heading toward someplace closer.
Someplace even better.
Where it all Began.
Los Alamos, the birthplace of the atomic bomb.
Without any hyperbole (but with bold text) – if there’s one location a Fallout game absolutely needs to be set in, it’s here.
Not already including Los Alamos, and the greater Santa Fe region it’s within proximity of, is such a massive oversight to this series that it’s mind-boggling that it hasn’t already been done!
Except it almost was. In Van Buren. Oh.
Yup, the one location that makes all the sense in the world for Fallout, a place that would fit the Southwestern themes established by the first two games in the series because it’s in the Southwest . . . just had to be in the numbered game that got cancelled!
As with Colorado, this means a lot of salvageable ideas can still be used. Stuff like the The Reservation, home to a Ghoulish breeding program. Like Mesa Verde. Like Tribal “Goddess” Hecate and her deathly daughters.
Aside from being the perfect location for poetic license and for getting to cherry pick the best of the rest from Van Buren, the region has caravans loads of creative potential!
The “even-before-the-war” radiation could justify all sorts of highly “evolved” mutant monsters. A little ways south lies Albuquerque, home to catchy Weird Al songs and a minor league team, The Isotopes, just waiting to be turned into a roving raider gang. There’s also the Navajo presence – did they reclaim their ancestral lands when the American Empire fell?
When you toss DLC into the mix, the ideas get richer than Tenpenny. Colorado’s near enough to take the best ideas from that location, and enjoy them here. Further south lies Mexico proper, specifically Ciudad Juárez, a wretched hive of scum and villainy even today, a perfect New New Reno tomorrow. Lest we forget, there’s Roswell, along with the ever mysterious Area 51 and the possibility of delving into the extraterrestrial elements of the Fallout universe without needing to be a joke.
Then there’s the fact that New Mexico allows for definite continuity from New Vegas, which had a much more open ending than Fallout 3. Who won the War for Vegas? House? The NCR? The Legion? Did the Courier usurp Ulysses’ (himself a member of Hecate’s original tribe) control and nuke everybody? All of those questions can be resolved, expanded upon, or rewritten – but only if the next game is set relatively close by, like in Santa Fe.
At the end of the day though, it’s only fitting that Fallout, a twisted bit of Americana based on 1940’s and 50’s conceptions of atomic science still naive to the horror they were building, should go to the exact place where this terrible discovery began.
There’s symmetry in that. Beauty, even.
But then, these are all just my speculative hopes and wishes for a series I obviously love like the desert that was my home. Sure, New Mexico lets the Western tradition of Fallout continue, while also progressing along an ambling eastward trail, but it does make sense to set other games in the East. If only so they can slowly amble West.
While I still insist New York is the better choice, Boston won’t be awful if (and when) it happens. I’m not too keen on the Institute’s miniaturized robotics technology so much more advanced than what the rest of the games’ universe exhibits – it’s more cyber punk than atom punk – maybe Bethesda can even make it work. Unlikely perhaps, but there’s still bound to be some good to come out of it too.
Synthetic citizens dressed as tribals throwing Nuka-Cola off the deck of USS Constitution, maybe?
As for me? Well, the Highwayman’s now a scrap heap ditched into a bomb crater. The fuel cells ran dry while I was coasting my way to Santa Fe, and the steering locked up while I headed toward the radioactive pit. Had to bail fast. Twas quite the explosion though.
Looks like I’ll be walking back home now.
I’ll need some traveling music to pass the time while I pass the miles though. There’s a long road ahead of me, even longer than this article.
If I’m to be shot by some raiders while on it, I’d rather it be while I’m whistling.
Until next time fellow Vault Dwellers. Whenever that might be.