Fallout Shack: Van Buren, the original Fallout 3
In July 2004, Interplay Entertainment announced it had sold off the rights to the Fallout licence (single-player) to Bethesda Softworks for just over a million dollars. Four and a half years later, Fallout 3 was not only heaped in critical acclaim and subject to massive sales, it also utterly reinvigorated interest in the Fallout series. Yet, at one point in time things could have worked out quite differently for everyone’s favourite post-apocalyptic franchise. On the 8th of December 2003, Interplay closed its subdivision, Black Isle Studios, due to financial pessimism and the choice to pursue the console market. The highly skilled team at Black Isle had been responsible for a slew of RPG classics including Fallout, Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment and the Icewind Dale series. At the time they were laid off, the team was working on Fallout 3, codenamed Van Buren (after the former president Martin Van Buren).
At the time of Black Isle’s severance, the original Fallout 3 was well on its way to being completed, as ex-employee John Deiley stated in an interview on Game Banshee, ‘The engine was about 95% done. You could create characters, use skills, perform both ranged and melee combat, save/load games, and travel across maps. We had a tutorial level done that would let you do all of the above. All areas but one had been designed. About 75% of the dialogs were done and at least 50% of the maps. We had character models and monster models.’Although Van Buren’s engine was 3D, it still managed to retain the look and feel of the first two Fallout games and this can be seen in this footage or in the game’s pre-alpha stage tech demo, which is still available online for those curious enough to sample it.
Unlike the third game in the series, Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, Van Buren was intended to be a true sequel to Fallout 2. The game would have opened with your character in a prison cell (it was your choice whether they were guilty or innocent – this had a direct affect on your skills), they would later awaken in a different cell altogether. A concussive explosion then knocked you unconscious and when you awoke, you were able to escape through a blasted hole in the wall. This setup then cast you into the game’s wasteland, which you would explore to uncover the truth behind your imprisonment and learn why you were being hounded by packs of enforcing robots bent on capturing you. The game would have featured an ongoing war between The Brotherhood of Steel and the New California Republic (NCR), the outcome of which you could help determine, not in the least by your actions near the Hoover Dam. The fast-travel between locations conceived in Fallout 2 would have also been included and expanded upon as Deiley states, ‘The player could repair railways and locomotives for fast travel to distant locales with train stations. Or, he could find and repair several vehicles that allowed access to areas outside the railways. Or… the player could hoof it.’
The central plot of the game was concerned with a ruthless NCR scientist named Dr. Victor Presper, who intended to take control of an orbital nuclear weapons platform (B.O.M.B.-001) and give the Fallout world the last thing it needed: another nuclear firestorm that was intended to purge all life other than a select few. It was scripted that the player would have been unable to prevent the launch of every missile, and they would be given the grim task of choosing where they would actually detonate. Interestingly, some aspects of Van Buren’s design were subsequently used by Obsidian in Fallout: New Vegas and its DLC. In an interview on GameTrailers, Chris Avellone revealed that the concept of Caesar’s Legion had already been conceived and other sources reveal that amongst a myriad of locations, Honest Hearts’ New Canaan would have also featured.
It certainly would have been interesting to have played this game that never was, but alas – it never will be. Many Fallout fans were so wounded by the game’s incompletion, they vowed to never play Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and many more felt the series’ magic was lost in tandem with Black Isle’s closure. Whatever your feelings are, Fallout 3 happened, and it could have been so different. In an alternate dimension, it’s quite possible Black Isle’s version of Fallout 3 was completed and generated such high sales and fanfare that Interplay never sold the rights to Bethesda, and Fallout 9: Let’s not nuke each other…oh go on then!, is just about to be released.