Alternate Backstory Symposium: Fallout

13 02 2009

People that know me know I enjoy backstory and flavor text in video games more than most people. In fact, sometimes I get frustrated when a game or TV show doesn’t like to provide its backstory, but usually that’s an incentive for me to keep watching or playing (example: the Xenosaga trilogy).

However I’d have to say what I really enjoy is a game that combines my love for history and my love for fluff material . The most recent case of this being the Fallout series of games, which present an interesting Alternate History of the world that branches off from our timeline after World War II ends. Now unfortunately the designers of all 3 games have not been very forthcoming on all the details of what made the world go in that direction. Not saying that was entirely necessary either, but since I’m really weird about backstory (in fact I’ll eagerly jump at any chance to write a novella about the setting of a game I’m working on), I thought it would be fun to take what we do know about the Fallout universe and apply some thought to what caused the divergence and what that one divergence point caused as a ripple effect throughout the timeline.

You might ask why I’m doing this, but I’m asking “why not?”

Part 1: Finding the Divergence Event.

We already know from the creators that the RL timeline and the FO (Fallout) timeline were pretty much the same until World War II ended. However the end of World War II could have come about differently if FDR hadn’t kicked the bucket. Would he have used the atomic bomb? In fact, was the atomic bomb used at all? Bear in mind that in the Fallout World it took over 100 years for their cold war to turn hot, with disastrous results. Even though in our world we didn’t know about the dangers of nuclear radiation, it’s safe to say nobody really wanted to use it again after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So it seems that it’s safe to say all of WWII played out the same way.

In fact, it’s important to note that there are only 2 events that differ from our own timeline in the 20th century that we know of. Specifically in the Fallout timeline, the USA has the first man in space, and by 1969 the country was split up into 13 separate commonwealths as a way to give more power to state concerns.

Now in our timeline, Alan Sheppard would have been the first man in space had there not been a series of delays. In the fallout Timeline, a one “Carl Bell” became the first man in space, and in fact died due to a crash on re-entry. So odds are safety was thrown to the wind in order to beat the Chinese and the Soviets into space.

That’s another thing. In Fallout the Chinese, and not the USSR, become the major communist antagonists. This could have occured due to many factors, chiefly being that perhaps the Soviets and Chinese communists worked together in the aftermath of WWII, so that the communists would take over the country and the Soviets would get the equipment in Manchuria they needed to sell off to rebuild their nation. At the same time, the assistance the USA tried to give the nationalists must have been conspicuously absent.

Which means President Truman must have been absent

Which means in the Fallout universe: Dewey Beats Truman, but for real. Or even more divergent, Robert Taft (leader of the more conservative arm of an at-the-time divided Republican Party) beats the more liberal Dewey for a nomination, and then goes on to thrash Truman in the 1948 Election.

This of course leads to the question of why the space race ends up being more or less the same. Did John F. Kennedy become president in their time? Perhaps not. After all in the Fallout universe the USA had already beaten their competitors into manned spaceflight. Sending someone to the moon must have been the next step. But I’m getting ahead of myself since that was the 60s and I’ve only just figured out 1948.

Part 2: Filling in the Blanks

It seems to me that the only presidency we can count on existing in both universes after 1945 would be that of Richard Nixon, since there is a “Mr. Nixon” doll in Fallout 2. The idea that Nixon is so revered in the future probably means that he wasn’t outed as an evil crook and that he’s probably the one responsible for Balkanizing the United States in 1969. After all that kind of “states rights” concept gone mad is exactly the idea a Republican Conservative such as Nixon would have done.

Furthremore, supposed that instead of going to China, Nixon went to Russia? After all in Fallout 3 it’s positied that the Soviets and the US worked together on Liberty Prime in the 2060s, and it was China, not the USSR, that became “the enemy”, so it stands to reason that Russia and the US were on far better terms, and in fact, the US instead of getting directly involved in Vietnam did some cloak-and-dagger work to get the Vietnamese to fight China directly (since those two hated each other and was a fact we did not know in our timeline). This of course also means that Khrushchev never went off the deep end and the Brezhnev faction never staged a successful coup on his rule, leaving a less Stalin-esque Russia in place for years.

So let’s review

1948: Dewey or Taft beat Truman
1950s: Eisenhower becomes president much later, if at all. Warnings about the Military-Industrial Complex go unheeded.
1960-1964: JFK is not assassinated, serves only one term. Vietnam never happens.
1964-1972: Nixon serves, does not get impeached, turns the United States into 13 commonwealths. Man still lands on the moon in 1969. Nixon talks to Russia and not China diplomatically.

At this point figuring out future presidencies become difficult. After all, without Watergate and Vietnam happening, the counter-culture would have never have really taken off, thus keeping conformity and 1950s sensibilities in place for over a century.

Part 3: And some more scattered fragments

Furthermore personal computers never evolved to the level we had now, though applications in computer science in terms of space travel and robotics, as well as wepaons design, continued normally. The transistor wasn’t invented until the 2070s, showing how little advancement was made in that particular direction of computer science, and how processing power only caught up to what we have now by the time the apocaylpse hit.

However it is interesting to note they invented the “holotape” or “holodisk” which is a rewriteable media format that stores up to 4TB of data and can store images and sound (possibly out of necessity because they never discovered sound and image compression codecs, after all, the most complex computer program they have in this universe, aside from robot AI, seems to be a text adventure) . Also some computers, namely the wrist-mounted Pip-Boy 3000, can interface with a terminal and download data to it. So there are some similar advancements in terms of computers with our own, except in their time it just took a lot longer.

An easier thing to pin down is an event in the 1980s, where in our time 10mm ammo was found to be lacking in utility next to other catridges of similar stopping power (.44 and .45). However in the Fallout timeline, 10mm ammo becomes the most ubiquitous caliber in the world.

Part 4: Conclusion

Naturally there is not much evidence to suggest I have this right. This is merely my interpretation of events that may have shaped the world this way. I’d like to thank the people at “The Vault” (a Fallout wiki) for having such detailed articles on the world itself.

So until next time, have fun, and try not to set the world on fire.

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