Fallout Shack: Architecture of The Wasteland
Think of the Fallout series and it’s likely your mind’s eye will envision the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland in which the games are set. Yet much of the series unfolds in and around a multitude of architecture, every piece of which has been thought-out and designed by the games’ developers. The series’ architecture is crucial to the atmosphere of the games and acts as a robust vertebra in the backbone of its distinctive quality.
In the 1940s and thereafter, the Atomic and Space ages had a large influence on contemporary US culture and this surging period of technological optimism was reflected in architectural styles such as Googie, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne (all three can be grouped into the ‘Raygun Gothic’ catchall). It was during the post WWII period that the series’ timeline deviated from our own and followed a course which led to The Resource Wars and nuclear Armageddon. Up until that point the architecture of the pre-war Fallout universe had remained true to the aforementioned styles and it is their presence, along with keenly-designed posters, infomercials and other features which create the series’ retro-futuristic aesthetic. This is all deftly melded with the inevitable post-war remains, debris and plenty of innovative new buildings to create the many locations found in the Fallout games.
The early games are somewhat limited by their isometric engines and rely heavily on basic buildings in most of their locations: dark, dismal and monotonous boxes which reflect their titles’ pessimistic tone. The massive cathedral in Fallout is probably the most architecturally impressive structure in the game; its striking form a blend of a traditional main structure with a Futurism-influenced spire – a spectacular backdrop for the climactic battle with the cultish Children of The Atom.
Another location of significance is Junktown, as – although it houses several crude buildings fashioned primarily from corrugated iron and steel, it also contains Doc Morbid’s hospital. This building is notable due to its smooth white finish which contrasts sharply with its neighbouring buildings and also for its rounded edges and triple horizontal line detail, the latter two being characteristic of Streamline Moderne architecture. Finally, the town’s perimeter wall made from stacked automobile carcasses and entrance fashioned from a rail-carriage seems both a practical and realistic use of salvaged materials – illustrating the resourcefulness of the fledgling post-war civilisation as well as being a memorable addition to the game’s aesthetic.
Fallout 2 features a greater number of locations that its predecessor and many excellent ideas for these were conceived by Black Isle: Gecko is a town built around a failing power-plant, the Enclave’s base is a fortified old oil rig and Arroyo village features a temple as its centrepiece. The towns of Redding and Klamath are made up from a combination of previously featured buildings and new ones that show slightly greater detail, such as those with walls constructed from large clay blocks rather than indistinct metal panels. Vault City and the New California Republic both house an abundance of smooth, pale stone buildings with prominent structural openings which serve to let the player know they’re in a more advanced and ‘civilised’ location.
New Reno is certainly a highlight – hapless junkies and graffiti tarnish its streets as you pass under the iconic Reno Arch warning you that shady shenanigans and outright lawlessness lie ahead. The crime-families’ bases of Salvatore’s Bar, the Shark Club and the Desperado all feature extravagant personalised entrances, emboldened with boastful neon signage – used to both entice feckless addicts and display their owner’s affluence and power.
Fallout 3 not only takes the series’ locations to superior numbers once again, it also realises them in a fully 3D environment courtesy of the Gamebryo engine. Fallout 3’s architecture is far more prevalent than before, with a multitude of power stations, shacks, depots, diners, stores, towers, train stations and many other buildings all serving to populate the wasteland with hundreds of structures. A prominent example of Googie architecture found in the game is the numerous Red Rocket refueling stations. The main structure of the station comprises a Space Age-inspired metal rocket fixed onto elongated, acute-angled supports which feature protruding horizontal tailfins – all coming together to create a reassuringly familiar sight as you traverse the game’s topography.
The game famously features a post-war recreation of downtown Washington D.C. complete with architectural landmarks such as the Capitol Building, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, all of which, unlike the White House, managed to escape complete destruction. The inclusion of these iconic buildings was a masterstroke by Bethesda as their classically inspired forms greatly contrast with the disorder of the wasteland and their real-world significance adds to the game’s forlorn atmosphere.
Although it has a smaller map, Fallout: New Vegas boasts more locations than Fallout 3 and through a tweaked version of Gamebryo, it employs many similar building models but also an abundance of new ones. New Vegas contains the strongest architectural designs in the series and the Googie style in particular was on the artist’s minds when they were designing it, as Obsidian artist Brian Menze revealed to GameBanshee: ‘We wanted to give the audience a real sense of Vegas and the time period, so we felt it was important to go that (Googie) route and partially it’s what anyone would expect Vegas to be. We pulled (just a little) from the 60’s here and there as well, but Googie is what influenced us most.’
An irrefutably Googie gas-station in Goodsprings, a massive recreation of a T-Rex (Dinky) guarding the Dino Dee-Lite motel and the skyline puncturing HELIOS One solar plant are all exceptional architectural additions to the tapestry of New Vegas’ world. But, of course, the New Vegas Strip is the game’s marvellous centrepiece. As no missiles directly struck Las Vegas during the Great War, its colourful neon-signed majesty was preserved until it was re-settled some two centuries later. The massive hotels and casinos have been expertly crafted by Obsidian and the Lucky 38 and Ultra-Luxe are particularly awe-inspiring. The Lucky 38 is based around the real-life Space Needle and the Stratosphere Las Vegas whilst the top of its tower (which houses an array of laser-cannons) was modeled around a roulette wheel. The exterior of the Ultra-Luxe was largely influenced by Caesars Palace whilst its interior was based upon the Bellagio (both of which are found in the real Las Vegas).
This article merely skims the surface of the architecture of the Fallout series but hopefully it has given some insights into the amount of detail that goes into just one aspect of the series’ design and how that, in turn, influences gamers’ experience of it. The Fallout games thrive on their distinctive setting and their architecture and landscapes are as much a part of the experience as anything else, be it power-armour clad techno-soldiers, gangs of merciless raiders or packs of hulking green-skinned super-mutants.