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Posted by Brother None

Glittering Gems of Hatred
Eleven angry guys on a website

Written by Brother None
Edited by welsh

In gaming terms, Fallout is a lifetime ago. So it's not that surprising that when people think Fallout they try and look for something to judge in the here and now. But that view is not without problems. People who never played Fallout but claim it is a boring, tedious game purely on hearsay can quickly be called out for judging something without having ever tried it. But the Fallout fanbase has cultivated an angry, embittered reputation, which is also based on hearsay, but harder to unmask.

Is this "fair"? This article will take a look at that and several other things, it will try to see what this bitterness is all about, if it is really there, what effect the fanbase has had on the franchise and will have in the future. We will mostly leave open the question of what kind of Fallout Bethesda is making, instead looking at the result their choices will have. In short, the article will try to do two things: encourage a wider audience to reconsider their opinion of the hardcore Fallout fans and urge Bethesda to foster a healthy, BIS-esque relationship with the fanbase.

The Decline and Fall of Fallout Fans
A brief history of Fallout fandom

This is not a complete history of the Fallout fanbase. It has been drawn up to illustrate the main point of this article and will thus focus on fan reactions to developments in the Fallout franchise. This history will take examples out of NMA's archives to illustrate its points, because most if not all of the other sites and/or their archives are long gone.

The Fallout fanbase was born with Fallout 1. Interest in the game before the release was nearly non-existent, which is not surprising when you consider it was not an A-list game and cRPG at the time was not a hot genre. As the spiritual descendant of Wasteland, there were some fans of that game and its genre showing interest in Fallout.

Glittering Gems of Hatred
Glittering Gems of Hatred is a popular description of Fallout fans first used by Something Awful poster elpintogrande (ref): "That's easy: All of the normal people are no longer a part of the "Fallout Community", they're just fans of the games. The people who are a part of the "Fallout Community" have been refined and distilled over time into glittering gems of hatred." The term has been embraced by the fan community as a beautiful, poetic description of their demeanour.
Eleven angry guys on a website
Much like Glittering Gems of Hatred, this oft-used phrase comes from an outside source. Futureshop, a Canadian webstore, put up Fallout 3 for pre-order in June of 2006 (ref), with the following comment: "Fallout 3 may not please you if you are one of eleven angry guys who may or may not frequent No Mutants Allowed." This comment was considered pretty funny and consequently stolen for general use (ref)

The time between Fallout and its sequel was fairly short, thanks to Fallout's surprising success. Excitement reigned on the official Interplay forums, which was where most of the vocal fanbase was camped. Interaction between the fanbase and the developers was of a high level, something BIS would become well known for.

Rumors about Fallout 3 being in production had been bouncing around like wildfire in the early months of 2000. On May 7, 2000, BIS' David Hendee noted "Fallout 3 is not currently under production." (ref). On May 11, 2000, Interplay announced Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel. The initial reaction was worded well by Miroslav: "I'm a bit confused here. I won't talk anymore but wait to see more about this." This initial confusion was caused by the fact that everyone had been waiting for Fallout 3 and a lot of people still believed BIS' "secret project" was in fact Fallout 3. However, if you scroll through the news archives going on from May 2000 (ref), you will find interest rose, especially after Fallout 1 developer Chris Taylor was revealed to be tied to the game. The NMA archives of this time do not reflect completely the fan reaction, as the game was being covered much more intensely elsewhere, especially on Duck and Cover.

In December 2000 the demo for Fallout Tactics was released (ref). Again we will have to use Miroslav for reference; "I won't speak much about the demo right now, as I'm busy playing the damn thing :) It's looking good. Continuos Turn Based mode is what I was eagerly waiting for, and it proved great!" Some critiques were brought up on the original forums, quickly adressed by Tony Oakden (Tactics producer), mostly to point out that this was, in fact, a pretty rough demo.

Fallout Tactics went gold on March 9th, 2001, accompanied by the following comment from Odin; "Yes my friends the moment we all been waiting for, Fallout Tactics has gone gold" (ref). On March 12, it turned out Interplay had promised Micro Forté support to make Tactics patches as well as Tactics 2, but had miscalculated and cut off the deal and funding to Micro Forté, forcing the company to lay off half its Tactics staff, the remaining staff taking paycuts. Odin commented; "Our heart and soul go out to the Micro-Forté team that have done a great job on Fallout Tactics and have also done a great job at interacting with the fans!!" It came as quite a shock to Fallout fans, many of whom had had good contact with the Micro Forté staff, but turned out to be a sign of things to come. Micro Forté expressed hope to continue in their March 13 press release, to which Odin commented "We here at NMA hope Micro-Forté have a smashing success with the upcoming MMORPG, and we hope to hear more from them (ala FOT2 style)!!!"

In this time, when FOT 2 was cancelled, Fallout 3 not in production and BIS taking up the later-cancelled TORN, the Fallout fanbase was focusing on playing and modding Fallout Tactics. Although reviews and first impressions of the gaming media were positive, the Fallout fanbase was starting to sour considerably. While many didn't think Tactics a bad game, there was some disappointment at the game. Miroslav's first thoughts, posted March 23; "Anyway, Tactics is not that good as I anticipated, it laks a lot of original Fallout." On March 29, Miroslav stated; "A lot of you don't think [but Miroslav did - ed] that Microforte did a bad job of implementing Fallout's retro look into Tactics. (...), but the quality of the game as a strategy game is quite nice". This opinion could be seen as a rough draft to what the Fallout fan opinion of Tactics would become.

It's important to keep in mind that from the release of Fallout 2 until the present there have always been murmurings of a Fallout 3. This ended with Van Buren and Bethesda's Fallout 3, but click on any random month before that time and chances are you'll see a comment on Fallout 3 rumors. In december 2001 it was confirmed that Fallout Tactics 2 had been started but cancelled by Interplay, a petition was started to restart development. However, a sequel to Tactics was never seriously considered after this date. Interest among Fallout fans had sunk to a new low and Tactics, a game that broke Interplay's record for most pre-ordered game, did not turn out as succesful as Interplay had wished, partially due to the high number of returns. There were also a lot of rumors about Interplay's economic status as it was running towards bankruptcy (a run that is still dragging on) and BIS projects were cancelled (including a rumored brief startup of, you guessed it, Fallout 3) (ref).

The time between the cancelling of Tactics and the announcement of the console version of Fallout calling Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel was a boring and quiet time. Fallout's SPECIAL system was used for Lionheart, badly according to some, and BIS started and cancelled project Jefferson (Baldur's Gate 3).
Crying RPG Codex babies
Popular perception of hardcore RPG fans, of which Fallout fans are a part, as drawn by Chris Avellone. (source: RPGCodex)
In March 2003 word of Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel surfaced (ref). By this time, the Fallout fanbase had a year to dissect Tactics and to come to the conclusion that Tactics did a fairly bad job at keeping to the Fallout setting, no matter its quality. Fallout 3 had at this point been rumored and unrumored several times and Interplay was thoroughly mismanaging BIS. After a year of this, most fans were kind of fed up, and it's no small surprise Rosh worded this irritation well; "Interplay raises the middle finger to Fallout fans again: (...) Top on the list, they say "The game play is more attuned to the console platform, stressing more action and combat than the PC versions which placed a greater emphasis on RPG elements or strategy." More combat? As Fallout Tactics was just combat, why not just be honest and say it's going to be a combat system with wastelandish graphics? The setting is just about guaranteed to have been lobotomized." The general response to the game was so negative that on May 15 2004 Interplay had to close the Fallout: BoS forum (ref)

Missing christmas of 2003, Brotherhood of Steel was released in january 2004 (ref). Reviews ranged from EDBIS' "The most compelling thing about Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is the question it raises: What the (*(#^*! was Interplay thinking?!" to Into Liquid Sky's ".....this is exactly the same game you played 2 years ago in BG:DA. From the interface, to the traits/skills you learn, to the quest types, everything feels like it was just ripped from that game and given a new name to sell more copies." The former is a widely held opinion amongst Fallout fans, the latter is the general opinion of reviewers, that the game offered "nothing new". The opinion of BoS fans is unknown, which is unsurprising as the game turned out to sell only 19,000 copies.

Back to May 14th, 2003, when one of the few people remaining at BIS, J.E. Sawyer, started mentioning the project to follow the cancelled Jefferson; Van Buren (ref), which turned out to be Fallout 3. Van Buren was covered intensely over the next few months and featured a number of controversial features, such as TB/RT (ref1 ref2). It fluctuated back and forth and often gave of an impression of J.E. Sawyer versus the Fallout community, but noticeable is the intense interaction. Sawyer expressed his opinion on this as follows; "Look, man, seriously: there are a lot of people with really useful ideas here, at NMA, and at DAC. (...) When a person's only function seems to be to complain, their feedback becomes kind of useless because it all seems like a vendetta" (ref).

Important to note that while the RT/TB-combination was highly controversial (people feared too much attention would be paid to the RT-version, thus making TB unbalanced, much as happened to Tactics) and rumored to have multiplayer coop (again much like Tactics), the response of a vocal part of the Fallout fanbase to Van Buren was critical, especially when debating with the devs, but in general the Fallout fanbase was excited and looking forward to the game.

This is best expressed by the cry of outrage and despair at the cancellation of the game and the firing of all BIS devs in December 2003 (ref) shortly after J.E. Sawyer left (ref). The following months were spent on covering the decline of Interplay, including the cancellation of Fallout Brotherhood of Steel 2 (the game which Van Buren had been rumored to be cancelled for) after the flop of BoS. Leaked screenshots and design documentation of Van Buren were also being released. Part of the fanbase was fed up and wanted to move on, but part was reading the documents with interest and while controversy never stopped, the documents in particular brought realisation that this might have been a proper sequel.

On July 12, 2004 Bethesda Softworks announced it had purchased the rights to Fallout 3 from Interplay (ref). This news was met with what some call unreasonable anger or distrust from the core of the Fallout fanbase (ref). Part of the anger was caused by rumors that Troika, founded by core members of the Fallout 1 dev team, had almost purchased the license, rumors which later turned out be incorrect (ref), as well as knee jerk mistrust that Bethesda would not hold true to the Fallout license, based on their track record of cRPGs.

However, the situation was marked by how different it was from Van Buren's announcement. Knowledge of Van Buren had been slowly built up as rumors had spread, but the license deal to Bethesda hit the fallout fanbase like a bomb. BIS had been ready to talk to the fans quite openly, while Bethesda would stay quiet about their project for years. It was soon evident that the deal had been announced for the sake of Interplay, whereas Bethesda has a policy not to announce games until they were ready for it. After an initial flurry of questions and rumors things started to quiet down fast (ref), most people settling into a wait and see attitude.

As of the writing of this article in early 2007, the deafening silence has been steadfast for years despite Fallout 3 being in full development for some time. Some fans view this as a bad sign, others still want to wait and see. Prevailing rumors suggest that Bethesda will release a console-PC game using the Oblivion engine, replace turn-based play with real-time and transform Fallout into a first person game. These rumors are as controversial as were prior rumors about Van Buren. Many people have given up on the game as a consequence. Others wait to see how true Bethesda will stay to the franchise.

Go to part 2