Entropic Crusader

Home of sci-fi and fantasy author, Benjamin Matthews
Might as well replace this with Arbeit Macht Frei…

Vault 101. Well, at least I don’t need to talk about food and water? That’s something, I suppose. The whole point of the Vaults is that they’re self-sufficient, so—certain naughty secret experiments notwithstanding—I don’t need to belabour that point. Yay! Of course, this isn’t a win for Bethesda, as never having to put any real thought into something in the first place doesn’t exactly count.

The first thing I’ll say here is that I’d really like to kill Vault 101 as the starting point for the game. Because really, Bethesda’s one-track mind when it comes to pre-war and the Vaults is kind of tedious. On the other hand, they’re taking an old CRPG and modernising it for a new audience, and a vast amount of players simply won’t have played the first two games… so okay, I’ll compromise there, as it’s a useful way to introduce an important part of the lore.

Speaking of the lore, Bethesda really butchered the point of the Vaults, didn’t they? There are hints in the first game as to the true purpose of them—whether those hints were intentional or not—but the Project Safehouse experiments and Enclave really came to the fore in Fallout 2.

Technically speaking, some of this lore was never exactly made canon, as it was based partly on Van Buren, the cancelled Black Isle Fallout 3, and on the Fallout Bible. But the experiments themselves certainly exist, and also had a unified theme: social experiments on randomised populations in controlled environments. Wacky science was never part of that goal, something Bethesda’s writers completely missed the memo on.

(Update: So Tim Cain, the original creator of Fallout, now has a Youtube channel where he talks about game dev, including his experiences on games such as Fallout. We no longer need to speculate on the subject of the Vaults, because Tim has confirmed it himself in THIS VIDEO.)

In any case, let’s take a look at Vault 101 and the opening section of the game. Following on from my point above that introducing a new generation of gamers to the Fallout world and setting requires certain concessions, I’m going to talk a little about how I’d have handled things.

This is mainly because my version of Vault 101 will tie heavily into the major central settlement of the wastes, the one I’ll be replacing Megaton with after it was merged with Canterbury Commons, so I need to talk about Vault 101 before I can reasonably talk about the new place. That’ll go in the next chapter, then I’ll finally get back to the Talon Company, since they’re related to the new location and therefore you’ll need to know what it is for context.

As you’re no doubt already aware if you’ve ever dug through the Overseer’s terminal entries, Vault 101 has been sending out low-profile parties to scout the surrounding wasteland for quite some years, with some even staying behind in places like Megaton to feed information to the others, at least until the latest Overseer went completely off his rocker. So let’s take that a step further and build our whole player character around it.

Taking our cues from the later quest you can activate by listening to Amata’s radio signal, we’ll combine the idea of scouting parties, the Trouble on the Homefront quest, and character creation itself into a single coherent whole. Trouble on the Homefront will effectively be your first quest in the game and will take you through both character creation and exiting the Vault, while also staying active for a good portion of the first act.

We’ll be axing the silly growing up from a baby segments, Dad is also gone, along with the main water-related questline (recall that the desalination device / purifier is already operational and part of Rivet City’s overall background), so we’ll ignore all of those entirely and start afresh.

First up, you’re a regular Vault guy or gal and unremarkable beyond that, exactly as a Fallout player avatar should be; your deeds in the Wasteland are what mould your character, not things you have no control over. Be nice if Bethesda would learn that.

Anyway, after a brief intro sequence—something simple and quick to introduce the player avatar and setting—you’ll be called in to see the Overseer.

Administrating our future.

Here you’re told that as a result of the growing schism in the community over whether to open the Vault to the outside or stay sealed, he’s sending you out as the first official scout and—potentially, depending on how things go—envoy. In the event of a low INT built, you might well be more of a sacrificial lamb who isn’t expected to survive, rather than a scout. Low INT runs were a staple of the franchise, so they need to be accommodated.

The Tunnel Snakes will also be brought in here. They’ve been quietly leaving the Vault for some time now, scouting nearby areas and bringing as much current intel back as possible without revealing themselves or making contact, and their skill at running tunnels (and similar, such as caves) to stay on the down-low is how they acquired their nickname. Now it’s time to take things a step further.

At this point you’d have a quick character creation process similar to Doc Mitchell’s house in New Vegas. You pick your SPECIAL, tag skills, and a couple of starting traits, then the Overseer continues; you’ve been chosen because you have ‘insert highest SPECIAL stat here’ reason (except in the case of Low INT, in which case that takes precedence). He can have a clipboard with your medical record on it to read from, referring to it as he speaks in a similar manner to Doc Mitchell.

High endurance? He’s decided on you because you’re the hardiest member of the Vault and most likely to survive the harsh world outside. High intelligence? You’ll be able to evaluate technology and threat levels to the Vault. High charisma? You have eloquence and diplomacy on your side. High agility? You were always best at Hunt the Mutant (Vault 101’s version of Hide ‘n’ Seek), evading capture, and finding the sneakiest hiding spots, making you a good scouting candidate.

Each of the seven stats would have its own unique dialogue for the Overseer to say in response and, in the event of two stats being equally high, the game would look at your tag skills and determine which SPECIAL stat should be used for this particular scene’s dialogue. And an INT of 1 or 2 would take precedence and lead to the amusing ‘yeah, we don’t want you around any more’ route where they’re essentially just happy to get rid of you.

Additionally, this will be a Control Vault, one of the few that didn’t have any form of experiment performed on them, thereby giving new players the illusion of safety and comfort until they find their first legitimate social experiment in a rusted and ruined Vault later on.

The literal opposite of subtle.

Effectively we’d be doing the same with Vault 101 as happened in New Vegas’s Vault 3; the residents decide to open up to the outside, except we’re directly involved in how that will play out and can potentially lead to good, bad, indifferent, or downright awful outcomes depending on how we play the game.

With character creation and your basic goal sorted out, it’s time to get into a few details. The quest itself is pretty open-ended with regard to objectives; the Tunnel Snakes have scouted a smallish region around the Vault all the way out to locations such as the Super-Duper Mart (which will be the site of my new settlement and faction).

The player will therefore start the game with, say, four locations marked on their Pipboy, all named. Talking to the Snakes will reveal additional information on each, and their own recommendations for which to tackle.

Operations; the place you’ll be briefed on your journey. With coffee and doughnuts.

Each of these locations will provide new early-game quests and events for the player to experience, learning about the world outside and generally acclimating to life in the Wasteland, while still working for Bethesda’s usual ‘pick a direction and walk’ gameplay preferences. One of the four will be a place called Eighton, based around the Super-Duper Mart location.

I’ll get into why it’s called that in a moment, for now I’ll just say it’s the headquarters of the primary faction in the wastes (the power armour-wearing BoS replacements), and will likely be the second largest settlement on the map after Tenpenny’s city, though also more successful with good quality of life for most people there. Of course, there can be another faction (Enclave equivalent) who’ll come in and cause problems later, but for now these guys are the primary force in the world.

The player will naturally have multiple choices for quests, dialogue, and anything else they end up doing in the wastes, including openly stating they’re from Vault 101, keeping it hidden, skirting the issue, and similar. The Overseer will tell you to be careful in your dealings, but leaves it to your discretion because, frankly, Vault 101 is already known to the world and is tightly sealed; he’s not too worried about people knowing they’re there, but it will be important for how people see the Vault faction in the event they do open up, and that’s going to be a result of how the player is perceived and received.

Before I can go further, I need to explain a bit about my new faction and their headquarters. I’ll keep this brief as I’ll talk in-depth about them in the next part, but for now you just need to know that they’re remnants of the US Army who were stationed in Anchorage for a time, and who witnessed the end of the world (literally: they saw Anchorage itself burn, albeit from a good distance).

They were originally known as the 8th Expeditionary Assault Force, and the eight from their unit name was taken and used for the new settlement.

Hateful Eight. Actually that’s a lie, the 8th is really very nice to outsiders. Mostly.

With that out of the way, how will Vault 101 tie into this new location? First off, the player will need to have done a fair amount of stuff in the Wasteland before the conclusion to Trouble on the Home Front will trigger. Similar to how Boone or Veronica’s companion quests work in New Vegas, there will be predefined quests or locations around the Wasteland that each add points to a hidden counter, incrementing until a certain amount is reached. When this particular number is hit the radio broadcast from the Vault will be triggered, allowing the player to tune in and hear Amata’s message.

Listening to the message, you learn that the divide between the two sides has grown even more dire, and there’s been some violence. They’re requesting that you return with a status report on your travels in order to hopefully settle things down a bit.

Since this is important, the player will also receive word via other means (someone in Eighton picked up the frequency, a Tunnel Snake acting as a Vault courier, and similar ideas), in order to ensure they don’t miss the message. Upon returning to the Vault, you sort the problems out one way or another. But first you’d give a situation report to the Overseer and the rest of the Vault, letting them know your findings.

The results of the briefing will take into account a number of factors, including how the player dealt with certain quests, how they handled themselves in the Wasteland in general—for example, if you’ve been killing innocent people and acting like a total ass—their relationship with high ranking members of the factions, their standing with the factions themselves, and other variables.

Depending on how this all goes, the result of Homefront can be swayed to a number of outcomes, but the player will also be free to influence things in the short term through dialogue choices. If you lie about your evil deeds, the Vault may open to the outside only to find themselves attacked or ostracised by the other communities because they have a negative reputation thanks to your actions. If you’re honest, the Vault may remain shut and throw you out for being awful. And other combinations thereof.

Helping the rebels:

They want out of the Vault, so you help them to do so and then point them in the direction of Eighton. The Vault dwellers’ expertise with machinery and tech would be a considerable boon to the settlement, where they’d be welcomed with open arms. This could also lead to tension with the hardliners (that’s the rougher, more militaristic half of the 8th faction I’ll get to later), however, who might well think their power is being challenged.

Helping the isolationists:

As above, but you help the isolationists quell the rebel upstarts either via speech or force. However, even if you don’t personally get involved with the violence, chances are a lot of people will die on both sides and this will leave the Vault weakened. Upon completion, you leave and they seal the door behind you forever.

Helping neither:

Either you go in guns blazing and kill absolutely everything that moves (evil or even outright nihilistic routes once you’ve given your report… or before, if you choose), or you simply ignore the place entirely and let them sort it out themselves. Ignoring the signal for long enough would result in a roughly randomised outcome of one side or the other winning out, but being so devastated that they can’t even maintain a presence in the Vault any more.

The remnants end up leaving and heading to Eighton, and in this scenario the player would likely be dropped to Vilified status with the Vault faction, and take a hit to their Eighton reputation (assuming it’s positive) for being the cause of this influx of bad-tempered Vault refugees.

Helping both:

The ‘perfect’ option would have the player mediate both positions after giving their report, have them talk and come to an agreement, and find a peaceful solution. Effectively it’d boil down to this: the rebels would leave and head to Eighton as with the above option, but they’d also maintain contact and amicable relations with the Vault.

For their part, the Vault dwellers would close the door but not seal it, maintaining a level of contact with the outside for trade and commerce, and to keep in contact with the people who left. This benefits Eighton and Vault 101, plus putting the player in good standing with both factions.

This seems familiar somehow… probably because Beth stole it from Fallout 1’s ending.

Once this quest completes, that would conclude Act 1. After this, another main questline will pop up involving a new threat to the Wasteland and the peoples therein, prompting the start of Act 2. Of course, if you ignore this quest entirely, the new antagonists would still show up to start the second Act, you’d simply be introduced via a slightly different quest instead, like how you can ignore the Khans entirely in New Vegas and still complete the They Went That-a-Way quest line by going straight to the Lucky 38.

The player now has a reasonable knowledge of the world, they’ve met several factions and become friends (or enemies), completed the initial Act 1 questline (either directly or by inaction), and can be introduced to a new threat to sink their teeth into.

And that’s that, Vault 101 done and tied nicely into the wider world. As I said at the start, we’re introducing a new generation of gamers to the Fallout franchise here, so despite my general annoyance with Bethesda’s over-focus on the Vaults (when they’re placed in the background in 2 and New Vegas), it actually works just fine in this instance.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have Vault 101 become a serious focal point for that first Act, in order to give the new players a primer on Vault life, the experiments, Vault-Tec itself, and of course the Great War. Note also how it then fades into the background with the start of Act 2. The focus has now shifted away from them and onto something new.

You could argue that I’m copying Fallout 1 (and eh, I am a bit, it did something very similar), but while Bethesda basically just copied the water chip / mutants / GECK story beats from Fallout 1 & 2 verbatim, I’m going out of my way to think up something different. So yeah, no complaining about hypocrisy, please ;p

On a final note, I doubt I’ll actually worry about coming up with a definitive threat to replace the Enclave. This series is more about the general world itself and the existing locations, but I’ll probably throw a few random ideas out here and there as we go.

Next up, I’ll talk a bit more in depth about Eighton itself.

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