The Relentless Champions Of Classic Fallout 

The Relentless Champions Of Classic Fallout

For years, No Mutants Allowed, a news site and message board, hung in a happy obscurity. It's the largest Fallout fansite on the internet and was founded back in the late '90s under the shadow of the first two games in the franchise.

It's difficult to remember now, but the late 90s' Fallout 1 and Fallout 2 established themselves as some of the best games in the history of isometric computer role-playing. However, in 2004, Interplay closed Black Isle Studios and focused on profoundly forgettable spin-offs like Brotherhood of Steel. The No Mutants Allowed community were united in sorrow but never abandoned their love for the once short-lived Fallout universe.

About a decade ago, Bethesda purchased the licence, and the hype-cycle for Fallout 3 started to churn. The 2008 game got stellar reviews and sold millions of copies. Seven years later, Fallout is one of the most recognisable franchises in gaming. A 2010 sequel followed, and then came last month's massive announcement of the upcoming Fallout 4. At this point, it's hard to imagine anything being a bigger release this year. That little isometric CRPG has finally taken the world.

But No Mutants Allowed will not give up the ghost.

The oldest fansite in Fallout history, a community that loves the Fallout universe more than anything else in the world, has thoroughly rejected Bethesda's take on the fiction.

One NMA user writing under the name Mobucks just listed out some of the supposed sins of the Bethesda take on Fallout: "The 200 year old food. The abandoned, wood-framed, blown-in-half houses which would have rotted to dust in 50 years. The existence of wood-framed anything still standing 200 years after a nuclear assault leveled the area. [Fallout 3] is a completely grade-school level of thinking of what a post-nuclear society would be like. All flash, no substance."

And another: "[Fallout 3] made me lower my standards in gaming just so I could play through this bloody thing, and it still ended up disappointing me," wrote Autonomousoblast

"I am still not convinced that you can be empowered by a game that refuses to acknowledge your agency, to take your actions into account," wrote Naosanno. "In the end, no matter what you do, you will be prisoner of what the developers expected you to do."

Posts like this that have earned No Mutants Allowed notoriety as one of the most cantankerous communities in all of video games. They complain because they love, of course.

The Relentless Champions Of Classic Fallout

"The thing I noticed when I first played Fallout 1 and 2 was the developer's subjectivity," a gamer named Sean who posts on NMA as The Dopamine Cleric recently told me over the phone. "It was a game that had a sense of humour more than anything else. I wasn't exactly a CRPG nerd. Statistics were alien to me. But the art, the post-apocalyptic ideology, the '50s sci-fi pulp comic fiction ambiance, it all resonated."

Sean had been having trouble with a questline and looked for walkthroughs on the internet. He stumbled into No Mutants Allowed, and he has called it home ever since.

"It's a community dedicated to the idea of Fallout, but also any other risque avant-garde RPG of that time, like Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines," he said. "It was a different type of environment than just a standard gaming website. There's very few places on the internet where you can find a philosophical debate on how to make video games."

Sean says his favourite period in No Mutants Allowed was after Fallout 2 but before Fallout 3. During that stretch, the Fallout licence was tangled up, its future was up in the air. That all changed on June 5, 2007, when the first trailer for Fallout 3 was released.

"At the time I was giving them the benefit of the doubt," Sean said, "but there was some heated debate in the community. 'Bethesda couldn't make a game to save their life!' and so on and so forth. I held out until I saw the preliminary artwork. It was very Battlestar Galactica, and it just wasn't what Fallout was about. It was dark and grim, and I was like 'oh, now I understand how they're going to implement humour.' They're not going to try that sarcastic, subjective writer's touch that earlier Fallouts had, it was just going to be dick jokes. And dick jokes are funny! But they aren't Fallout."

He's definitely right about one thing: Fallout 3 is a much different beast from the first two Fallout games. In Bethesda's world you can slap together whatever mish-mash of stats, items, and perks together and still be able to shoot, talk, and VATS-cheese your way just fine. Black Isle comes from a pen-and-paper tradition that emphasises reality. You can't rest for an hour and get a full health regeneration. There are no autosaves. The bad guys that can one-shot you are prowling around the second you step out of the vault. There are ramifications. If you do something silly, like say, roll a character with extremely low intelligence, you'll find that all of your dialogue choices are replaced with brutish grunts. Your first quest has a 150-day time limit on it. You can kill children, if you're sadistic enough. There's a real primalness here. Fallout 3, on the other hand, is designed for the broadest palette possible.

The members of No Mutants Allowed often talk about the difference of tone between Fallout and Fallout 3 in some pretty severe ways. This is a far more nuanced issue than they make it out to be, but they still have a point. Take the drill sergeant from Fallout 2. He unleashes the greatest Full Metal Jacket impression of all time if you approach him without your power armour. Take The Master, the final boss in Fallout. He's a pink biotech horror who speaks in a friendly mid-atlantic accent punctuated with words spliced from audio files. Or what about Myron? The horny, pasty-faced adolescent drug dealer who comes on to you relentlessly if you're playing a female. Those characters are still vibrant nearly 20 years later. As much as I enjoyed Fallout 3, I can't remember a single face that populated the Capital Wasteland.

Sander is an administrator on No Mutants Allowed, and has been a member of the community for over 10 years. "Fallout 3 was a huge success, and a lot of people in video games still like that game, but I think it was only us, RPG Codex, and Duck and Cover who rejected it," he told me. "The community did turn fairly hostile towards anyone who saw that game as a valid sequel."

NMA's shredding of Fallout 3 was probably most savage in the period just after the game's release. Fans streamed into the bee's nest to defend the honour of their new favourite game. Here's colonelmustard in 2009: "I must say I've seen quite a bit of bashing against Fallout 3, and I don't mean to offend, but that's just stupid," he wrote. "I may have lower expectations because this is my first Fallout, but this game is amazing and the DLC is nothing to bitch about either."

The first four responses are:

  • "Oh dear."
  • "Have you played the other Fallouts at all? It's like comparing a piece of dented brass to God's skull in 24k jewel-encrusted gold, kid."
  • "Here comes another one. Seriously people, try playing the originals before making yourselves look stupid over here."
  • "What's the point coming here to tell us to remember our love of Fallout, when you yourself don't even know what that love is about?"

A 15-page, constantly-bumped thread titled "why is Fallout 3 so hated?" captures No Mutants Allowed at their worst and most mean-spirited. Between the complaints about minor minutia like the placement of the Brotherhood of Steel or the irrigation system in Megaton, you'll find some embarrassing all-out attacks.

"It is truly unfortunate that you can't tell the difference between the immersive and reactive universe of Fallout 1, and the nonsensical mishmash of schizophrenic vignettes that is Fallout 3. The world of Fallout 3 makes zero sense, blatantly and in your face, at every single step it works to destroy any semblance of believability or immersion," writes a very audacious user named shihonage. "It is also truly unfortunate that you can't tell the difference between decent and horrible writing when you see it. If anything, the sum total you should get from this, is that you should read more books and develop an actual feeling for language and taste in storytelling."

That's how you earn yourself a reputation.

The backlash against Bethesda became the dominant topic for years on No Mutants Allowed, and it's only springing back up with the announcement of Fallout 4. The same feuds are recreated day, after day, after day.

"It never ends," said Sander, who admits he doesn't participate in these debates anymore. "The argument is played out. But people identify with the products they choose, and that includes Fallout and Fallout 3. People feel the need to defend them because it's part of their identity. It's self-defence. I think a lot the anger comes from that place."

The Relentless Champions Of Classic Fallout

No Mutants Allowed is a bitter place. Even its most faithful members would admit that. But this community is rooted in a certain compassion. As the millennium turned over, top-down CRPGs like Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, and yes, Fallout went extinct. There's been a revival lately, with indie studios producing spiritual successors like Divinity: Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity, but for years No Mutants Allowed watched angrily, as studios drifted toward profitable, console-based audiences.

"In it's heyday No Mutants Allowed had a real community feeling," says Sander. "The site was a place for commiseration for the games that we really liked and we just couldn't find anymore."

Maybe you're rolling your eyes at what seems like a bunch of grizzled men and women writing corrosive forum poetry about how PC gaming is ruined forever. But here's the thing. No Mutants Allowed aren't wrong. Fallout 3 is a massive departure from what that series meant in the mid-'90s. The NMA users' cynicism may be loud, but you have to remember, this is about ownership. It's a battle as old as time. The hardcores. The casuals. The blood runs deep. These people love Fallout, and they saw Fallout become something else. Yeah it's just a video game, but that helplessness is profound.

This was captured by longtime user Alec, who posted this just after Fallout 3 was released in 2008.

"Kids nowadays are developing new standards for what they think gaming should be all about," he writes. "Even though we dislike the idea, Fallout 3 will be remembered by them. As a really awesome game. And there's nothing we can do about it."

The sentiment is echoed by user Eyenixon in the same thread.

"Go look at the GameFAQs forums for a second and read some posts on various RPGs. To many people Oblivion is a standard for RPGs. It's the first major RPG release of this console generation and as such it's held in pretty high esteem by people who don't know anything about anything."

It's a losing battle, but if you listen close you can comprehend the pain. Fallout and Fallout 2 are the dying gasps of an entire generation, one where you rolled D20s for stats and drew your own maps. Maybe it's odd to miss the punishment, but that's what a wasteland is. Bethesda offers you a gift, while Black Isle gave you a world, just as savage and unfair as the real thing. How could they possibly understand?

"The Super Mutant is a great example," Sean said. "In Fallout 3 Super Mutants are just mob bad guys. It completely ruins the entire aspect of their place in the fiction. You're not supposed to meet these fuckers until late into the game when you're level 20 and have been doing some things around the wasteland. It has that escalation to it. In a Bethesda level-scaled open-world RPG, where you can just run all over the place and say 'oh look a Super Mutant,' that's kind of ruined."

The Relentless Champions Of Classic Fallout

(Above: Super Mutants from Fallout 3 via the Villains Wikia)

There are millions of kids who claim to be huge Fallout fans that are missing out on a foundational piece of the story. In the media, there will dozens of reviews for Fallout 4 that won't analyse its place as a follow-up of Black Isle's blood, sweat and tears. Maybe they don't have the knowledge, or maybe they just don't care. Yes it's a fact of life, yes there's nothing you can do, but amidst universal praise and GameFAQs screeds, No Mutants Allowed will forever honour what they think is right.

"Since Bethesda now owns the name, the whole purpose of [No Mutants Allowed] is to make sure that these games are preserved, and celebrated, and that people in the future know what to do and what not to do," Sean said.

I don't know if someone who was nursed on Bethesda's philosophy can sit down in front of that old top-down Fallout adventure and feel the magic. There's a chance that modern game design has permanently broken those old titles.. But No Mutants Allowed is steadfast. Decades from now the Fallout licence will have long shook off its CRPG tradition. Fallout 3 will be the origin story. Fallout 3 will be the classic. They yell, they scream, they beat down newcomers, but they need to, because no one else will. When No Mutants Allowed ends, so does Fallout 1 and Fallout 2.

"You have to understand that this community is mostly about fun and games, and when people show up they have a hard time realising that the shitstorm is a party," Sean said. "We like great storylines and dialogue and artwork and dedication. Even if it comes from one guy in his basement, the end product is what we're looking for. If you don't get it, if you don't want to listen to us about why Fallout 3 isn't the best representation of the Fallout universe and just want to say that it's the best game you've ever played, well then that's fine." He pauses. "You've become part of the joke."

Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego and living in Austin, Texas. He writes about music, video games, professional wrestling, and whatever else interests him. You can find him on Twitter @luke_winkie.


Comments

    It started to become difficult to read this article from a non-biased perspective after the intro had quotes complaining about how Fallout 3 is unrealistic compared to 1 and 2...

    Regardless, these people sound like arseholes. Have your opinion. Shout it from the rooftops, if you like. Just stop belittling and insulting people when they disagree.

    Well, that's certainly a romanticised view of NMA. Here's a different view.

    NMA's frustration began perhaps justifiably with the death of the isometric pen-and-paper-style computer RPG genre, but it has since turned inwards, feeding on itself in a positive feedback loop. Opinions become facts, the good points of the original games become godly tenets beyond reproach while their flaws are ignored and denied. The new games, decent in their own right, turn from being not to the taste of NMA's members to being symbols of all that is corrupt and evil in the world.

    NMA might as well be one of the Vault experiments. A community created from normal people, effectively shut away from the world, isolated with very little new blood. In that isolation, their thoughts and opinions bounced around in its echo chamber, becoming more extreme, more distorted and less rational versions of what they began as. Fallout 3 was like the opening of the Vault. It led to the influx of new people with different thoughts and ideas. But to these people who for years only heard the echo of their own increasingly warped thoughts, these new thoughts weren't just different, they were foreign. They were wrong. And wrongs must surely be corrected. Unable to accept that the world around them had changed, armed with years of bitterness and what had become almost religious fervour, they attacked anyone who didn't think the way they did.

    I used to be a member of NMA. I played Fallout and Fallout 2 when they were new. I watched this cycle of devolution unfold, and I left. Seeing what they've become now is like leaving the Vault and coming back years later to find they've all become mindless ghouls, shadows of their former selves where anger has consumed rationality and anyone who isn't one of them is the enemy, to be attacked.

    Fallout and Fallout 2 were excellent games. Fallout 3 was an okay game, albeit deeply flawed. Fallout: New Vegas was considerably better. I'm looking forward to playing Fallout 4. Sure, Bethesda's games are different to their predecessors, but that doesn't make them bad, certainly not universally so. It's perfectly okay to not like them, but when you're hostile, when you attack people for liking something you don't, you've lost perspective.

    NMA aren't defenders of an older time. They used to be that once, but not any more. Not for a long time.

    Last edited 07/07/15 12:39 pm

      Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2 and the Torment remake. Old school Isomatric is coming back!

        Absolutely, and Divinity: Original Sin as well. They've only been recent developments though and I think most of them are only really hitting niche appeal. Don't get me wrong, I love that style of game and I own all of the ones you listed (except Torment).

    I wish Peter Parker was still married, Final Fantasy used ATB & Nine Inch Nails still released decent records.

    It's not healthy to hang on to nostalgia this much, time to move on, try something different, chaps.

      In theory I agree, but it is tough when someone takes over something you love and completely changes it.

      I'm certainly not as rabid as the NMA members, but to me Fallout 3 is definitely not a continuation from of the Fallout legacy. It's good in its own way, though not to my personal taste.

      It's hard not to resent it a little because its existence essentially signals the end of something I loved. Bethesda didn't start a new series set in the Fallout universe, they stamped '3', and now '4'on the box and said 'this is what Fallout is from now on'.

        I was a massive Resident Evil fan on PSX, believe me, I understand.
        It's not healthy, do something else or just replay the classic, it's still there.

        I feel sorry for anyone who loved a game that's not easily attainable these days.

    How's wasteland 2? I did like the original fallouts quite a lot, and I find that they've aged more gracefully than the newer ones.

      Great but much like Pillars of Eternity it's very unforgiving even on lower difficulties. I am looking forward to getting it on PS4 just to support devs trying to bring such games on consoles.

    yep, i pretty much agree with No Mutants Allowed (perhaps in a less vitriolic way though). I can never understand why developers or movie producers take an IP, then turn it into something largely dissimilar from the source material. Why not just make a different kind of game with a similar-ish story and background?

    the thing that bugged me the most about Fallout 3/NV was the speech tests system. In Fallout 1/2 a higher speech skill gave you more options, and made it obvious when you were going to say something confrontational by putting it in red etc, but you still had to pick your way through the actual conversation to find out how to convince the person you were talking to. And some people responded in ways you wouldn't expect because of their back story etc. So you still had to research things to convince people to do things, particularly towards the end. In Fallout 3 (and esp. the end of NV), it was just a skill check - got 100 speech? you did it! hooray! no effort or thinking required!

    and re: super mutants - a super mutant with a rocket launcher was the second enemy i wandered into after leaving the vault in fallout 3. very anti-climactic. and needless to say it was a short, unpleasant encounter

    Last edited 07/07/15 12:48 pm

      I loved that about the conversations in the original games. I tend to play a very righteous character, at least the first time through a game. Fallout really made you think about the 'right' course of action. It was the first time I'd seen picking a 'nice' dialogue option backfire because an NPC's personality and goals conflicted with my assumptions of how things should be.

        Dialogue is one of the places where the original games did really well but that 3 struggled to keep up with. The only thing that's given me that feeling ever since is probably Witcher 3, maybe Pillars of Eternity/Divinity: Original Sin. Just because the games would factor in other things that you've already done before you had that conversation and seamlessly adjust, instead of only allowing things to flag as triggers in the right order. Not every game has that, "Don't choose every dialogue option just because it's there, some of those dialogue choices will have consequences," thing about it.

        To be fair to FO:3, New Vegas in particular did actually have a lot more of that element of complexity to its flags, and did take a few steps closer to 1 and 2 in its consideration of stat values and prior actions. Fallout 3 (less so New Vegas) did earn the accusation of being heavy on the unconnected vignettes.

        Last edited 07/07/15 1:36 pm

    As with anything that becomes 'mainstream' (bands, tv shows, books) there will be a small group of disgruntled people muttering about *the good old days* and how anything popular is wrong and you should feel wrong for liking what's popular.

    It's best to just let them sit quietly in their corner of the internet and hate on anything new. It's not going to diminish my enjoyment of any of the Bethesda games

      I think that's too broad a brush. You're welcome to enjoy your Bethesda games. It doesn't hurt to acknowledge that they're entirely different experiences to the originals, and that some people prefer the old games to the new.

      You're certainly not wrong to prefer the new games, but they do exist at the expense of a series that many people were very fond of.

        I agree on them being different experiences due to the difference in perspective and engine (and even then, the shithouse shooting meant that reliance on V.A.T.S. was very similar to the original in turn-based mode), but I profoundly object to them being lesser in their faithfulness to the lore, or even the humour. I think those NMA folks have dramatically over-romanticized Fallout (2 in particular) and engaged in some truly spectacular selective memory about things which were and weren't present in the originals.

        Not to mention that the far more mod-friendly Bethesda titles mean that the die-hards can install remedies to all the nitpicks they quibble over as 'evidence against the themes' to their heart's content.

        “We like great storylines and dialogue and artwork and dedication. Even if it comes from one guy in his basement, the end product is what we’re looking for. If you don’t get it, if you don’t want to listen to us about why Fallout 3 isn’t the best representation of the Fallout universe and just want to say that it’s the best game you’ve ever played, well then that’s fine.” He pauses. “You’ve become part of the joke.”

        Apart from that being the logical argument equivalent of that kid playing cops and robbers who says, "Nuh-uh, I have a forcefield on," these guys demonstrate a profound lack of self-awareness.

        NMA as a whole really are that twisted person who can't accept the possibility of their ex's new flame being a decent person, who will view ANYTHING they do as intolerable, regardless of how much they're on the record as liking that same quality in other people. Because they've simply made up their mind already and facts that get in the way of that are an annoyance to be quibbled over or ignored.

          Yeah, I don't really disagree with anything you've said. The original games were certainly not perfect.

          Story-wise I've never been particularly fazed by the sequels. Fallout's lore was very much informed by people coming into the office and saying "I just watched/read x and think we absolutely need to do y in the game!".

          What really held it together was Tim Cain's insistence that any reference or joke had to hold up on its own as a piece of in-game content even if you had no idea what the original point of reference was.

          Last edited 07/07/15 3:36 pm

    NMA were always weird, but with Fallout 3 they loudly and angrily shit their collective pants. They've spent the intervening time loudly and angrily refusing to clean it up out of some sort of bizarre protest that only they understand.

    I can only assume they are having a big night out eating chilli soaked kebabs and washing it down with cheap bourbon in anticipation for the next installment. This time their bizarre, abstract point will reach the public through the stench. This time for sure. They just need to shit harder and louder. Into bigger pants.

    Last edited 07/07/15 1:24 pm

    I agree with NMA to a degree. The writing in Fallout 3 left a lot to be desired. Even back before New Vegas came out I wondered how good a remake of Fallout 1 and 2 in the new 3D engine would be. They've got the important bits nailed - the story, dialogue, choices.. what its missing is the new 3D engine that makes it more accessible to new players. Yes, the engine has its flaws, but if given the characters and story from the original games, newer players would get to experience what made the original games so great without having to go back to those awful 640x480 graphics.

    All it needs is someone to create a whole new world, character models and voice all the lines. Its crazy to think that its the easier part to do than coming up with a good story.

      Regarding the 640x480 graphics, there's a resolution mod that effectively zooms out the perspective to give you a roughly 1:1 pixel match. It makes text difficult to read on smaller screens and the interface a bit fiddly, but you get a surprisingly lovely perspective over the towns that you never had back in the 90's - http://www.nma-fallout.com/features/scr00000.jpg

      Though I think this mod looks better for Baldurs Gate/Planescape Torment.

    If there’s a bunch of people who deserve to be trolled, it’s these people.

    I, for one, like the spirit of experimentation that comes from Fallout 3. It might not be as open-ended as the old games, but getting a tangible reaction out of a 3D environment was satisfying enough for me.

    I’d love to have asked these people a 15 years ago what their PERFECT Fallout game would be. “The Fallout of the future- what does it look like?”

    I bet you anything 99% of them would have wanted a 3D, interactive Fallout world that they could immerse themselves in.

    The reality of it is they’ll get that title a lot faster with the series being a AAA blockbuster then they would if Black Isle was still making isometric Fallouts that were being played by a small community.

    There are forums attached to NMA?!?!? (I know there are. Never went there). I just used it as a file source for the patches I need to make my games prettier and the like, when I get the itch to play them again.
    Of course, if you want really bitter, try visiting RPG Codex. That makes NMA seem like a shining beacon of hope. (Will say that RPG Codex has got a fantastic patch for Arcanum if you ever want to play that. If you love steampunk, you should give it a go. Just make sure you download the drogg blacktooth patch. And don't read the forum associated with it. That gets a bit. Nasty.)

      Whoa Arcanum, haven't heard that mentioned for ages. Still one of my favorites, just wish the multiplayer allowed you to play in the singleplayer world.

    Currently playing through Fallout Tactics for the 5th time. I'm enjoying it.

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