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Fallout creator shares frightening theory on the mystery of the Vaults

Fallout Vaults are full of mystery, but by analyzing New Vegas and the rest of the series, the RPG’s creator develops a superb new theory.

Fallout Vaults: A soldier in armor from RPG Fallout 2

Out of all the myriad horrors that populate the Wasteland, the Deathclaws, the Assaultrons, and constant pestering from Preston Garvey, the most frightening experience in the Fallout world actually lies below ground, in what’s supposed to be the safest place on Earth. The Vault-Tec Vaults serve as testing grounds for horrendous social and biological experiments – this we know. But between the original RPG, Fallout 2, New Vegas, and the rest of the series, the Vaults are also shrouded in mystery. Now, the co-creator of the original classic, shares an incisive new theory on the Vault’s history and what their sinister maker was really planning all along.

Which is the scariest Fallout Vault? Personally, I’m torn between 106, where psychoactive drugs were discretely introduced into the air supply, slowly sending the population into a collective murderous rage, and Vault 11, where every year the inhabitants had to democratically choose one person to be ritualistically sacrificed.

Tim Cain, who served as producer, designer, and co-creator on the original 1997 RPG, has previously explained that the Vaults were contrived by Vault-Tec to test various environmental and social conditions should the human race need to vacate planet Earth and colonize space. Now, Cain offers a possible solution to another Vault-related mystery – though he’s keen to impress this is entirely his own theorizing, and not official canon.

Fallout Vaults: A man shooting robots in Obsidian RPG Fallout New Vegas

“The original design for Vaults was that there were going to be 1,000,” Cain explains, in a recent video on his (terrific) YouTube channel. “Much later we started revisiting this idea. If each of these Vaults hold 1,000 people, that’s only a million people, which is way less than the population that we imagined in the US.

“There are 50 states, 1,000 Vaults. That means every state should have about 20 Vaults. Bigger states would have more, smaller states would have less. I’m sure it’s not distributed evenly, but we’re looking at about 20 Vaults per state. Fallout 1 was in the middle of California and southern California.

“Fallout 2 was that area and the north, so together, Fallout 1 and 2 were pretty much the entire state of California. California is a pretty big state, but Fallout 1 and 2 combined only had about four to six Vaults in them. The TV show, which is also set in California, they added four more. That still only gets us ten – ten Vaults for the entire state of California. You’d expect at least ten more out there.”

Cain also points to Fallout New Vegas, which is set in the neighboring state of Nevada, but contains only seven Vaults. Explaining that both California and Nevada feel “under-served,” Cain says that the reason – the hidden truth behind why there are so few Vaults – is obvious.

Fallout Vaults: A soldier in heavy armor from Bethesda RPG Fallout 3

“Vault-Tec,” says. “They didn’t build all 1,000 Vaults. They didn’t even come close. I know some of the Fallout games show Vaults still under construction when the bombs fell, so you could argue they were planning to do all 1,000 and they just never made it – they never got there.

“If you look at all the games together and the show, I think my estimate would be Vault-Tec had probably built fewer than half – probably far fewer – than the Vaults they were supposed to. And then you have to go ‘well, why was that? What’s going on?’ Not only did they [Vault-Tec] win the contract from the government by underbidding – severely underbidding – they probably also underplanned and underscheduled, and probably just didn’t think they were going to do them all.

“It’s not a leap from them being the lowest bidder, to them building some really shoddy Vaults, to them planning to underbuild and under-serve all the states,” Cain continues. “It happens in real life. There are a lot of companies that get government contracts to take care of roads, take of bridges, to build more internet infrastructure. They get the money. They take the money. And then they don’t do it.”

Fallout Vaults: An abandoned street in Bethesda RPG Fallout 3

In Cain’s theory, this is one of the reasons that the Vaults became the testbeds for their various social experiments. Knowing they weren’t capable of building all 1,000, Vault-Tec decided it could use the bunkers that already were constructed for a different purpose – rather than saving people, the Vaults were reconfigured to push, manipulate, and examine human behavior.

“When you add in the fact that Vault-Tec probably knew they weren’t going to build 1,000, and the ones they were building were really bad, you can see where the experiment idea might have come in,” Cain concludes. “It’s like, ‘hey, we’re not going to build all these, so we’re not going to get a lot of people saved, so saving people obviously isn’t the goal. What if we did this other thing instead?’”

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Between depleting resources, nuclear war, and the sinister machinations of Vault-Tec, by the time 2077 rolled around in the Fallout universe, humanity really was doomed. Those one-person tube shelters suddenly look a lot more inviting.

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