The Fallout world is an anachronistic setting historically divergent from our own and fundamentally different from our universe in how the laws of science work. The base concept for the setting is a mid 20th century World of Tomorrow, a future as envisioned through the lens of the Atomic and Jet Ages. The Fallout world is a satirical, post-apocalyptic depiction of the future envisioned by Americans between the late 1940s and early 1960s.
World of TomorrowEdit
The Fallout world is home to hovering housecleaning robots, and the use of laser guns is the norm. Automobiles look like Motorama concept vehicles from the 1950s: massive tail-finned and chromed behemoths, yet powered by nuclear fusion engines. While there are many desktop computers similar to our own (albeit on a par with those which became available to us in the 1980s, with primitive graphics and apparently tiny memory capacities), the major computers are still giant banks of machines and use reel-to-reel tape storage. However, the pinnacle models somehow are more powerful than our universe's supercomputers. Clothing styles, architecture, building interiors and furnishings remained heavily influenced by the culture of the American 1950s, and popular styles of this period such as art deco and futurism remained prevalent. Posters and signage also largely hearken to this decade. Radio, rather than television, remains the most common mass media, and food products are based on those popularized in the TV-dinner era (boxed macaroni and cheese, canned meat, Salisbury Steak TV dinners, etc.).
Instead of working to develop miniaturized electronics, post-World War II humanity in the Fallout universe invested its technological efforts in massive supercomputers (e.g., ZAX supercomputers), further harnessing the atom, inventing compact nuclear fusion power generators and an enhanced and miniaturized form of nuclear fission, as well as more advanced robotics, cybernetics and genetic engineering than we currently possess in our universe. This meant that things like power armor and laser weaponry could be built, as well as the large number of housekeeping robots used by many Americans before the Great War. Many such power sources continue to function hundreds of years after their construction.
A demonization of Communism, common to both worlds during the 1950s, remains a part of everyday North American life in the Fallout universe. For example, Liberty Prime in Take it Back! proclaims, "Death is a preferable alternative to Communism!", a play on the '50s jingoistic slogan "Better dead than Red!"
Historical divergence of the timelinesEdit
The historical details of the divergence and the exact moment when it occurred are unknown. What is known is that it happened at some point after 1945. One of the likely causes was the fact that the transistor wasn't invented in 1947, and instead was 120 years later, in 2067. This would have had massive impacts on electronics and can explain the terminal computers of the Fallout universe. The date is hard to pin down because the two timelines are not entirely different even after the divergence. For example, certain residents of Megaton in Fallout 3 occasionally utter the phrase, "Don't let them fool you with their hippie crap," and graffiti on the outside of the Hidden Valley bunker in Fallout: New Vegas contains anti-nuclear, pro-peace slogans reminiscent of those used by the '60s counterculture. While the term 'hippie' existed as early as 1945, it didn't enter the popular American lexicon until the 1960s in our reality. Clearly, something similar to the rise of a peace-loving hippie counter-culture in our world also occurred in the Fallout universe, or the hippie movement could also have occurred as normal. The opening title sequence of Fallout 4 also makes it explicit that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and coinciding end of World War II happened in the same manner and time further supporting the year 1945 as the last certain point before divergence.
While the point at which major divergence from our timeline occurred some time after 1945, there are some events that took place prior to 1945 in the Fallout Timeline which differ from our own. However, none of these had a major impact on human history. The most notable of these differences is the presence of an extraterrestrial spacecraft in orbit around Earth, along with associated alien abductions and experimentation on humans occuring since at least 1603. Other examples of pre-1945 events in the Fallout timeline that did not occur include the first manufacture of Sunset Sarsaparilla in 1918 and the crime spree of Vikki and Vance in 1932.
There are several notable differences between the politics in the Fallout world and our own.
The United States changed drastically after the divergence of the timelines, evidenced by the American flag. In 1969, the 50 states were consolidated (and in California's case, split up) into 13 commonwealths, although it appears that the states themselves retained some degree of sovereignty, judging by the Nevada state flag outside of Doc Mitchell's home (As well as the various license plates that are adorned with state names rather than commonwealth names). However, this could be seen as a way to make organizing plates a lot easier, as merging three states into commonwealths would lead to 3 duplicate plates.
Not much is known about politicians after the divergence, although Richard Nixon, the President of the United States from 1969 to 1974 in our universe, is mentioned in Fallout 2. According to the GNN News transcript, an unnamed U.S. president was impeached in February, 2075 for jaywalking. However, the archives had been jokingly modified by soldiers, so it is unknown if this is true. The transcript also mentions that shortly after the President walks out on international oil talks, "the US economy is seeing its greatest growth since the Reagan Era." This suggests that Ronald Reagan served as President during the 1980s.
Likewise, not much is known about American politics in the Fallout universe. Daniel Bird, Jack Smith and Argyll mention "Republicans" (in Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas respectively) suggesting that the Republican Party still existed in some shape or form in the Fallout universe.
Jack Smith also hints that the Democratic Party existed post-divergence, when he mentions that he would never vote for "one of those beatnik liberal commies", although that could refer to a different as yet unknown party.
Racial segregation seems to have ended still, at least visibly in the military, as was the case with Lieutenant Thomas Morgan. Civil rights of women seemed to have progressed as well with women openly serving in military combat roles as seen in the Anchorage Reclamation simulation.
The United States of America appears to have declared war in Vietnam as comments to this effect can be heard during the Interplay/Microforte title sequence in Fallout Tactics. It is unknown when it was declared or what the outcome of the war was. In our timeline, the United States never actually declared war on Vietnam, though large deployments of combat troops were sent there between 1965 and 1973.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is still a political entity by the time of the Great War. In our world, the U.S.S.R. was dissolved in 1991, with Russia and the various Soviet republics becoming independent nations once more. It appears as though when the Great War happened, the Soviet Union and United States were allies.
The People's Republic of China still resembles the China of our world during Chairman Mao's rule, and it seems that the country never experienced the liberalization and free market reforms that it did in our world after rapprochement occurred between the United States and the Beijing government in the 1970s.
A key point of divergence in the timelines is how ludicrously inflated prices were in the pre-War United States. Likely due to the scarcity of fossil fuels, wartime spending, and civil strife plaguing the world, the US dollar experienced significant inflation in the years before the Great War. Many things, from cars to gas to toys and food were sold at prices far higher than those of our world. Notable examples of this are:
- Gasoline costing $8500 a gallon, as evidenced by pre-War gas stations.
- Nuclear Class A coolant at Red Rocket cost $119 per gallon, with Class C costing $121.
- A meal of coffee and donuts at a donut shop costing $32.
- The robotic horse Giddyup Buttercup had an asking price of $16,000 in 2077.
- Newspapers such as the Boston Bugle and Capitol Post cost $56 an issue. Comic and lifestyle books such as Guns and Bullets, Unstoppables and Astoundingly Awesome Tales, cost anywhere from $15 to $33 depending on the specific issue.
- The Chryslus Corvega was marketed in 2077 as costing "only" $199,999.
- The Vault Project (also known as Project Safehouse and the Societal Preservation Program) was initially slated to cost $400 billion for 122 Vaults, but ballooned up to $645 billion by 2077.
While gasoline prices are indeed very inflated by modern standards, other prices are, in fact, quite in line with fairly normal levels of inflation that could be expected in the decades between the present day and the Great War in 2077.
City design in the Fallout universe differs from that in ours, often to the point that the cities are only superficially similar in layout and presence of familiar landmarks. Washington, DC, for example, looks similar to the American capital city of our world in terms of the placement of signature buildings and overall urban design, but has some noticeable changes:
- Much of the pre-War contemporary architecture is 1940s/'50s art deco & 1950s/'60s modernist.
- The skyscrapers that define Arlington, Virginia in our reality do not exist.
- Buildings such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum are replaced with the Museum of Technology.
- Busts of persons apparently famous in the Fallout world while unknown in ours are located on many buildings.
- The Capitol Building has two single flight sets of stairs on its front facade (the side facing the Mall), rather than dual sets of stairs.
- The Mall is smaller and more compressed than the real Mall (though this may just be an instance of the entire Capital Wasteland being smaller and more compressed than the real D.C. area)
- The subway network is different; there are fewer lines and the stops are different (the D.C. subway network in Fallout 3 has 3 lines, Red, White and Blue), while the real D.C. subway has 6 lines (Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, and Silver), though admittedly the Silver Line was still a plan-in-development at the time of Fallout 3's release and had not even received funding to begin its construction.
- The Washington Monument has a steel skeleton, which the real monument doesn't have.
- The Pentagon is located in a different location than our universe, being right on the banks of the Potomac next to the Arlington Memorial Bridge.
- An elevated monorail network ran through the city and surrounding areas. No monorail networks exist in D.C. in our timeline, though some parts of the "subway" are in fact elevated above ground, for example the Red Line between Union Station and Forest Glen, or the Yellow line where it crosses the Potomac River.
- Many buildings and memorials built since the 1950s and 1960s in our timeline (such as the Vietnam War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, Nationals' Park, the Kennedy Center and the Newseum) either were never built or were destroyed and totally forgotten.
- Factories remain fairly common, as was the case during the American industrial economy of the 1940s-1960s, and, while heavily automated with robotics, are still quite primitive by our present-day standards.
Much like Washington, DC, the divergence caused architectural design in Boston and the Commonwealth to change dramatically, with notable examples as:
- Towering highways criss-crossed the area, in some areas standing 85-100 feet off the ground, even running through Central Boston.
- Futuristic skyscrapers dominated the cityscape of Central Boston, and due to the city being relatively spared from nuclear annihilation, still remain structurally sound after 210 years.
- Boston Airport (Logan International) has a completely different design, with a terminal building similar in design to LAX (Los Angeles International) in our world.
- Central Boston sits on a peninsula, with water to the north and south.
- The developments to the south of Boston (Roslindale, Mattapan, Brookline) do not exist.
- Lexington is shown to be a small town, instead of a large city.
- Scollay Square still exists while in our world it was torn down in 1962.
Computers that fit in a single room!Edit
One of the major divergences from our own history is that, in the Fallout world, the rapid miniaturization of digital computers and electronics never occurred. The transistor, invented in our world in 1947, was not developed in the Fallout universe until the decade just before the Great War (2067), while its successor, the semiconducting microprocessor chip, may have never been developed at all. As a result, the digital computers in Fallout are all of the old reel-to-reel tape type that take up large amounts of room. The mixed vacuum tube/transistor personal computers used on desktops are very large and bulky, while displays are small monochromatic cathode ray tubes rather than the liquid crystal flat panel displays now common in our own universe. However, they are evidently built to be extremely sturdy, weather resistant and reliable, as functioning examples can be found 210 years after the bombs fell, often in harsh conditions functioning perfectly fine. Data is stored on holotapes or holodisks which electromagnetically store information as three-dimensional digital images. These computers are very advanced in their processing power, indicating that progress continued in computer science (albeit at a slower rate than in our universe), but the technology to make them smaller never emerged on a large scale: technologies like the Pip-Boy and androids require miniaturized electronics to function. Nor did user-friendly icon-based graphical user interface (GUI) operating systems, which first appeared commercially in our world in the 1980s. UIs remained fairly basic command-line affairs, and less frequently advanced voice interfaces (as per computers in 1950s science fiction) were developed for computer systems which made a GUI redundant on such systems.
Television sets and radios also failed to evolve past the early 1960s level, and television in the Fallout universe remained in the same monochromatic hues as its computer screens, as well as having tiny displays and large frames. However, color television seems to not be prominent in the Fallout universe despite the fact that color television first became mainstream in 1953. Another example of technology failing to evolve can also be found in cameras. Cameras in the Fallout universe are big and bulky with large flash bulbs like those used in the late '50s and '60s. Interestingly enough, however, the CCTV cameras seen in Fallout games are just as compact as those in the real world.
Various references to uploading and downloading, as well as to e-mail and networked communications, also demonstrate that though the Fallout universe lacks our mastery of microprocessor technology, other aspects of computer science proceeded unhindered, such as robotics, the development of the Internet, and orbital communications satellites.
Harnessing the Power of the AtomEdit
In the Fallout world, nuclear power was not only used for atomic bombs, it was also harnessed in nuclear reactors, which became a prominent source of energy. Large scale fission reactors that powered whole towns as in our world existed, but were a lot more common. These power plants were smaller and they often existed underneath towns and cities, such as the one in New York that almost went into meltdown and the powerworks beneath Olney. But similar to our world where more priority was put towards making electronics smaller, more priority was put towards making nuclear reactors smaller in the Fallout universe.
They were reduced in size to the extent that they could be used in roles more typically occupied by internal combustion engines in our world, such as car engines and small electrical generators, or even in fission batteries. Controlled nuclear fusion, a source of energy which is yet to be harnessed by scientists of our world, was developed. Fusion reactors were used to power vehicles and, like fission reactors, were reduced to very small sizes for use in power cells which were the standard for powering medium energy weapons in the military. Many of these pre-War power sources are still functioning around the time of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. One example of functioning mini reactors are the ones in radios and televisions across the wasteland. It is seen in the demo video of Fallout 3, that there is a mini reactor still pumping out energy in a destroyed bus radio. This also explains the lack of power cords on the radios and televisions in the wastes.
This nuclear obsession of the Fallout world saw nuclear energy and, to a lesser extent, radioactive materials, being utilized wherever possible; even seeing radioactive isotopes added to a type of cola at one point despite the inevitable health risks of ionizing radiation. Their world's obsession with nuclear energy ultimately ended in the destruction of pre-War society.
Along with this proliferation of nuclear technologies came the risk of radiation poisoning during accidental radiation exposure. In response to this threat, radiation treatment and inoculation technologies were developed in the Fallout universe. Such technologies have yet to be realized in our timeline beyond very early experiments.
All of the Fallout games use a combination of fictional weapons and weapons similar or identical to real-world examples. The games vary in their faithfulness to canon and logic in their choices of which weapons are included as well as in how the weapons' characteristics have been modified from their real-world counterparts.
The development of nuclear weapons in the Fallout world differed from our universe in that the majority of nuclear weapons remained in aircraft-delivered bomb form, while only a minority were miniaturized into warheads and placed atop ballistic missiles. The progress of nuclear weapons apparently stayed at the atom bomb level and improving upon it; thermonuclear and hydrogen bombs were either never researched or abandoned in favor of atom bombs. There are a few examples of a nuclear missile in-game: the Minuteman ICBM in Fort Constantine. Other areas, such as Fort Bannister and the Wheaton Armory, have missile silo doors that are similar to the one found at Fort Constantine but feature no apparent way to launch missiles. This suggests that the missiles in these facilities were launched during the Great War. In The Divide, there are a large number of un-launched ICBM's, suggesting they were prepped for launch, but never got the call during the short period of mass destruction. It is suggested that nuclear-capable countries, such as the U.S. and China, had begun converting their nuclear stockpiles to ballistic missile form by the time of the Great War in 2077. Aircraft-delivered nuclear weapons took the form of the old-style bombs used in the 1940s and 1950s, similar to the Fat Man dropped on Nagasaki in World War II. Although electronic miniaturization was accomplished in the Fallout universe, nuclear bombs of the late twenty-first century still retained the Fat Man-esque shape. However, in New Vegas, Mr. House mentions having defended the city from 77 nuclear missiles, suggesting that the Chinese at least had access to substantial numbers of warheads in missile form. Also, information on the computer terminals found in the Washington, D.C. Museum of Technology would suggest that the American military recomissioned the Delta IX rockets as nuclear warhead vectors. Additionally, the "Minuteman" series of nuclear missiles (First launched in 1962 in our universe) appear to have also been developed and expanded on in the Fallout world, as "Minuteman XI" missiles appear in both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, while the Minuteman III is the latest in our world.
Rifles retained designs of weapons that originated in the 1940s and 1950s, such as the AK47 or FN FAL. There is evidence that despite the diverging timelines, weapons development in the Fallout universe followed a similar path to ours. Picatinny rails (a technology that is only recently been implemented in our universe) as well as weapons such as this grenade launcher and M79 grenade launchers, which were developed around the 1960s for the Vietnam War in our timeline. Handguns also retained similar designs to those of the early 20th century. Heavy weapons, such as missile launchers and the Fat Man, had unique designs such as side mounted foregrips and pneumatic ammunition loading systems. Weapons that seem impractical in our timeline, such as nuclear catapults and man-portable miniguns, were extensively developed in the Fallout timeline and issued to frontline troops. Ammunition calibers that are not common in our timeline, such as the 10mm, are widely used in the Fallout era, while common ammunition in our timeline, such as .50 BMG, .45 ACP, etc. is utilized for more specialized roles, such as high caliber rifles and submachine guns.
Guided missiles exist in the Fallout timeline, but are much less commonly used. As mentioned above, intercontinental ballistic missiles existed during the Great War, however, most nuclear weapons appeared to be free-fall bombs. Smaller hand-held Missile launchers capable of locking onto targets, particularly metallic targets such as robots or turrets with the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System also exist, possibly originally intended as anti-tank, anti-Power armor, and/or anti-robot weapons. Guided missile cruisers such as the USS Ebon Atoll were also in service with the US Navy by the 2050s. In spite of the development of handheld and naval missile systems, aircraft launched air-to-air or air-to-ground missiles may not been invented until the time of the Great War, as the primary armament of Great War-era Fighter jets of the game appear to be armed only with nose-mounted machine guns, suggesting aerial warfare tactics changed little since the 1950s. Guided missile launchers only appear on the cutting-edge Vertibird VTOL aircraft.
Lasers and plasma guns exist in the Fallout world and are capable of burning targets to a pile of ash or into a liquefied puddle. In fact, they are so ubiquitous, they have entered military service. The AER series of laser rifles and AEP series of laser pistols were notable examples. Automatic laser weapons, such as the Gatling Laser were also developed and saw military service. Most of these energy weapons used microfusion cells, a result of the increased focus on harnessing nuclear power in the Fallout universe. Plasma weapons, which utilized electromagnets and toroids to expel plasma are also very common. There is also evidence of alien energy based weapons such as alien blasters or the famed "death ray" of 1950s pulp fiction and B-movies.
The Fallout universe has three prime examples of orbital weapons. An orbital missile platform codenamed Highwater-Trousers in Fallout 3 which can be used via a terminal at a satellite station; Bradley-Hercules, a high explosive missile based orbital platform that destroys Liberty Prime in Fallout 3's expansion pack Broken Steel; and the laser based Archimedes II in Fallout: New Vegas. They both target a position on the surface and can take out any threat. However, dialogue and information in game suggests that an entire network of orbital weapons exists, both nuclear and laser based. citation overdue
An example of a real-world orbital weapon system was the Soviet 8K69 Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, which placed a nuclear missile re-entry vehicle into low-earth orbit for an indefinite period of time and range, able to launch a strike with unprecedented speed similar to the Enclave's fictional Bradley-Hercules platform. FOBS was phased out in 1982 in compliance with the now-defunct SALT II treaty, which forbade deploying WMDs into Earth orbit.
The Fallout universe excelled at robotics technology, to the point that robots permeated pre-War society and served a variety of roles, both military and civilian. Robots walked family pets, retrieved groceries from the store, took care of children, impersonated famous celebrities to the joy of the public and even fought in the military. The types of robots and their physical characteristics varied, ranging from bipedal Protectrons, to tracked and hovering robots like the Robobrain and Mister Handy/Gutsy, to the enormous Liberty Prime robot designed to retake Alaska from the Chinese during the Sino-American War. Robots were often powered by fission batteries and energy cells, meaning many survived the nuclear holocaust of 2077.
Aircraft are not frequently found in the Fallout universe but there is evidence their designs have not changed remarkably since the immediate post-World War II era of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Jet propulsion has been fully developed in the Fallout universe, being seen in civilian and military applications (Both Chinese and American military aircraft can be found). The fighter aircraft in particular, however, do not appear to have changed in design since the 1950s, and there is no evidence that air-to-air or air-to-ground missiles exist, meaning air-to-air combat likely still consisted of dogfights conducted with machine guns or cannon at a few hundred meters, similarly to the real-world Korean War, rather than the long range (tens or even hundreds of kilometers) missile engagements of real world 21st century air combat.
Despite the development of jet power, civilian airliners still use propellers, as evidenced by the aircraft at Camp McCarran in New Vegas. Wrecked jetliners found at Logan International Airport in Boston have enormous frames, being almost the size of a cargo plane and have five nuclear engines arranged in a cluster formation on each wing, for a total of 10 engines.
Human spaceflight has also been achieved in the Fallout timeline, being developed roughly analogous to its development in our universe during the early 1960s. On May 5, 1961, the United States allegedly carried out the first manned space mission, and on July 16, 1969, American astronauts set foot on the moon. By the early 21st century, the early space capsules had given way to manned rockets resembling spacecraft from mid-20th century science fiction. Ballistic missiles, satellite weapons, and reusable spaceplanes were all operating by 2077.
Another technological difference between the Fallout universe and our own is the approach taken to plastic polymer use. In the Fallout universe, plastic is far less prevalent than in our own, with glass and metal alloys being the materials of choice. This is likely due to the scarcity of oil in the Fallout universe, which is essential to manufacture plastic. Syringes are glass and reusable, stimpaks come in a glass vial inside a metal casing, etc. Although water seems to come in plastic Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) bottles, the shape and size of the bottles themselves suggest they are mainly part of laboratory equipment. Intravenous preparations like RadAway and Blood packs also comes in plastic bags. However, the American military has widely employed plastic polymers - military combat armor is made of advanced defensive polymers, as is the T-51b power armor and later power armor models in the line.