Role-playing gamers hurt by Interplay's closure of Black Isle Studios had some salt rubbed in their wounds over the weekend, when several screenshots from Fallout 3 surfaced on the No Mutants Allowed fan site. The images were apparently taken from a FO3 demo BIS developers had made to show Interplay executives, and feature graphics from the game's new isometric 3D engine. They were later commented on by an anonymous FO3 developer, who provided insights into the now-cancelled title.
The first image shows one of the underground vaults made famous in Fallout and Fallout 2. According to the developer, the shot "looks like a pre-prototype one as it's missing the lighting that gets burned in after being laid out." Despite its rough appearance, the shot does show that FO3 had the same detailed environments as its predecessors. "There was lots of cool little stuff going on in this level; characters walked around and interacted w/ stuff, there were all kinds of cool computer noises, the doors opened w/ the old Fallout sound (we used lots of old sounds for our prototype to help keep the feel), there were some cool effects from a broken generator and a floating eye bot."
The second image features a glimpse of FO3's surface world. "This level was the most impressive to look at. All the buildings, streets, etc were built with our tile and prop sets," said the developer. "When you walked into the buildings or peeked through the windows, the roofs faded off super clean to reveal the interior (the interiors of buildings didn't render while you were walking around outside, thus dropping lots of polygons to draw)." The developer also described some of the visual bells and whistles that would accompany combat in FO3, as well as a fully animated vault entrance. "After we did our prototype, we showed the demo to a few people around the company who were Fallout fans and I heard no less than 3 people gasp for air as it opened. It was a great moment."
However, it was the shot of the main menu that caused the biggest stir among RPG fans. One of the options was "play with a friend," indicating that Fallout 3 would have had a online multiplayer mode and possibly even co-op play. However, the developer admitted the screen's graphics looked somewhat unfinished. "They looked good in game, but here, so close up, the self-shadowing looked really harsh on the characters." He (or she) went on to describe what the final screen would have looked like. "The skybox animated, the train animated into the scene, and the characters moved around in their idle animations. Eventually we were going to do lots of cool stuff with this screen, but it was a really nice start."
GameSpot had planned on posting the Fallout 3 screenshots, but were denied permission by Interplay shortly before this story went live. "Since the title was officially never announced, we're not allowed to discuss it," said an Interplay spokesperson, who would only refer to the game by its official code name, Van Buren. "The executive order is that we don't want anything from it published." The spokesperson confirmed that the order came directly from Interplay CEO Herve Caen.
Along with the screenshots, details on Fallout 3's story have also emerged. According to a prominent FO3 developer, the hero of the game was a prisoner "in a government quarantine protocol that was still being executed after the bombs fell." The prisoner later teamed up with the Brotherhood of Steel, the high-tech knights whose enclaves dotted the landscapes of Fallout and Fallout 2. Another report, the game was to be set in the Rocky Mountains, with Denver being mentioned as a specific locale.
Although Interplay hasn't even officially announced the Black Isle Studios layoffs, Fallout 3's fate seems all but sealed. However, the game's rabid fan base has already started a petition calling on Interplay to either sell the half-completed game to another studio or the restart the game's development.
However, given the amount of bad blood recently spilled, a reconstituted BIS development team is a faint possibly at best. On his farewell post on the Interplay forums, Fallout 3 producer Tom French's bitterness was plain. Describing the laid off workers as "a very dedicated group who struggled through some of the worst conditions possible in order to keep working on the game we kept making up until the final day," French speculated on what might have been. "I think what would have happened would have been a sort of second renaissance for our games. We would have most likely proven with Van Buren that we as a division still cared a great deal about the games we made and the fans they were for."