August 26th, 2005


a kiss to build a dream on

I used to wonder why Fallout fans cried bloody murder when Fallout Tactics came out instead of Fallout 3--after all, Fallout Tactics was an incredibly good game, a classic, even, if not the one they wanted. Black Isle Software closed in 2004, but the venerable Bethesda Softworks has since acquired the rights, so we'll still see Fallout 3 in some form or other. All's cool, right?

'Tis what I thought until I discovered how incredible Black Isle's Fallout 3 was going to be.

Good God. The depth. This is more than a computer game RPG, this is a novel with a fully fleshed out world and memorable characters and plot lines that branch for miles. No, nix that--a whole series of novels, volume after volume after volume. Had this game been released, it would have blown its predecessors out of the water. And that's saying a lot, considering that the original Fallout was one of the first and only games where you could complete any quest through pure diplomacy, excessive force (think entire friendly towns razed to the ground by your player character), or anything in between, or not complete any quests at all and go straight to the end--and each of these paths had unique rewards and repercussions. Fallout 3 would have outdone even that. The attention to detail Black Isle paid to this game would put George Lucas to shame. I mean, look at these design documents (MS Word format) that were leaked after Black Isle fell through. The document for the Reservation area alone is over eighty pages, and is rich with concept art, NPC characterizations, backstory, potential player strategies, effects on multiple endings, and plot trees that branch like mandelbrot snowflakes. This is a faithful reimagining of the already titanic Fallout world on a Tolkeinesque scale. Just one level contains more political intrigue, memorable characters, and genuinely thought-provoking and difficult moral decision-making than all of Knights of the Old Republic, which deservedly won much acclaim for breaking new ground in those areas. Look at all the different ways you can finish any quest. None of the RPGs that are coming out instead could ever match that depth.

Just read those design docs. If you are an avid RPG gamer, you will cream your pants--even if you are neutered.

Then again, it's telling that those games came out and this one didn't. The proposed Fallout 3 was far too ambitious even for Black Isle, which infamously had to lay off its entire staff after a series of bad management decisions, and still owes many of the best American game developers their salaries (or so I'm told). Come to think of it, I'm not confident that any RPG developer except LucasArts or Bioware has the resources and the talent to finish a game of this scale. Still, the game, while nowhere close to done, was making astoundingly good progress (near alpha, as rumor has it), and it's a damned shame that it never saw the light of day. I'm sure Bethesda will do a fantastic job with their Fallout 3, and the documentation from Black Isle's version is allegedly now in their hands, but it isn't going to be the same. Fallout fans have every reason to mourn what could have been--and what possibly was never meant to be.

Goodbye, Black Isle Fallout 3. You were almost a work of art.