Fallout. It’s simple, it rolls off the tongue, and it communicates, instantly, what the game is going to be about. But back in the early development days of the RPG game, and long before New Vegas, Fallout 4, and the 3D transformation courtesy of Bethesda, the open-world apocalypse sim had some far different, and rather choice, alternate possible titles. If we ever giggled at ‘Skyrim’ or thought ‘Starfield’ was at all unusual, we’ve got a newfound appreciation for how tough it is naming games – Fallout included.
We’re going back now to mid 1996, back before Fallout had its official name. At developer Interplay, it was referred to internally as ‘Vault 13,’ after the underground bunker that forms the game’s starting point. Co-creator Tim Cain explains how this presented a problem – if Vault 13 ever got a sequel, and naturally Interplay was hoping it might, ‘Vault 13: 2’ or other variations sounded a little messy.
“It’s very very hard to come up with a name for a game, especially a new game with new mechanics, a new setting, and new characters,” Cain says. “By the late ‘90s, there was already this vibe that a lot of words were being overused in game names, words like ‘dark’ or ‘shadow’ or ‘blood.’ These were starting to show up so much that we would almost make fun and be like ‘let’s call ours Dark World or Dim Place, or Souls of Blood.”
Cain explains how the original prototypes of Fallout were simply called ‘Testbed.’ Later, in honor of the eponymous table-top gaming system, builds of Fallout were labeled as ‘GURPS,’ before eventually switching to ‘Vault 13.’
“I said ‘if we ever make a sequel, we cannot call this game Vault 13, because what would the sequel be?’” Cain continues. “Vault 14? More Vault 13? Beyond Vault 13? It was a bad name. I said we really need to come up with something better.”
Cain has kept notes and old emails from his time at Interplay, including a list of names proposed for what would eventually become Fallout. On June 19, 1996, Cain wrote a memo outlining the naming process.
“‘This has been an exceptionally difficult time,’” Cain says, quoting his original notes. “‘To find a name for this game that is both catchy and tells somewhat about the premise of the game is not easy. The cool words describing a nuclear war such as ‘apocalypse,’ ‘holocaust,’ ‘armageddon,’ ‘wasteland,’ have either already been taken or have religious connotations that we don’t like.’
A meeting was held at Interplay where developers were invited to suggest possible names for the apocalyptic RPG. We’ve listed some of our favorites below, but let’s just say we’re glad the team landed on ‘Fallout.’
- Warriors of the Apocalypse
- Doomsday Warrior
- After the Bomb
- Hiroshima Revisited
- Devastated Earth
- Nuclear Summer
- Out of the Vault
- Earth AD
- Moribund World
- Vault 666
- World Gone Mad
- Return to the World
The name ‘Fallout’ was also suggested at this meeting. Cain also describes how he had emailed the marketing team, which had its own meeting and pitched names including ‘Mutilation’ and ‘Biohazard.’ Remember, this was before Resident Evil, named Biohazard in Japan, had gotten big. You can see Cain give the full list in the clip below:
Eventually, it was Brian Fargo, another of Fallout’s co-creators, who suggested using the now-famous name. “Sure enough,” Cain explains, “the next morning I woke up and went ‘Fallout’s actually a really good name.’ I suggested it to the team. Everybody loved it. It was the number-one choice, and it really worked well for sequels.”
Nevertheless, we can’t help imagining an alternate universe where one of the best open-world games of all time is called Moribund World: New Vegas.
Speaking of which, check out all the best Fallout New Vegas mods, refreshed and revised for 2023. You might also want to get the latest on the Fallout 5 release date, or maybe try some of the other best games like Fallout available right now.