When Fallout 3 made the switch to first-person, it was a point of contention for RPG fans. The Fallouts that had come before had been isometric, and that perspective had become a defining part of their nostalgia; when Wasteland 2 was Kickstarted, it too was isometric. As it turns out, however, Fallout could have been first-person from the very beginning - a decade before Bethesda took over the series.
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“There were a lot of isometric games at the time,” Fallout 1 art director Leonard Boyarksy tells us in our retrospective on Fallout. “If you weren’t trying to go first-person, it’s like everything was isometric. I remember while we were working on Fallout we saw the first stuff from Tomb Raider, and that was pretty much the first third-person action game.”
As development began on Fallout, the team at Interplay - yet to be christened Black Isle Studios - had just finished work on Stonekeep. Stonekeep had been a first-person RPG in the style of Eye of the Beholder: “And we thought about first-person [for Fallout],” map layout designer Scott Everts says. “But it was all sprites.”
Boyarsky soon decided that the limited first-person of the period wouldn’t allow the level of detail he wanted for Fallout’s wasteland.
“Even before we talked about whether we could do it with the mechanics of what we wanted the gameplay to be, I was like, ‘We’re not gonna do it,’” he says. “You just couldn’t make a game look as good as I wanted to make it look in first-person 3D. If you think about the first Tomb Raider, it had a great action feel to it but in terms of detail, I wanted a lot more intricacy in our art.”
For more on the unlikely development of an RPG classic, read our feature on how Fallout 1 ever got made. It’s part of a week-long 20th anniversary celebration of Fallout on PCGamesN, which takes in Fallout 2's weird wasteland and the all-but-forgotten Fallout: Tactics.