The leaked documents include the designs for Tibbets Prison, Denver, Boulder, Blackfoot Tribe, Twin Mothers, Ouroboros, Mesa Verde, The Nursery, Maxson Bunker, Jericho (and its predecessor New Canaan), Burham Springs, Hoover Dam, The Reservation, Bloomfield Space Center and B.O.M.B.-001. The documents for a few other locations such as Fort Abandon, Circle Junction and the Grand Canyon were not made available. Aside from tidbits released by developers during and after development, these documents are the primary source of information for the content of Van Buren.
The game would have taken place in the year 2253 in the American Southwest. The Prisoner, the player character, awakens in a prison cell. Suddenly the floor rocks violently from an explosion and the player is knocked unconscious. When they awaken, they find their cell door open and a hole in the wall leading outside. Leaving the prison, the character is under attack by some unknown assailant. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, the player flees into the night to explore this new world.
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Chris Avellone appeared as guest in Episode 48 of Gamer's Tavern Podcast. Quite surprisingly he decided to shed more light on mysterious Van Buren PnP - a campaign he ran at Interplay as a part of Van Buren pre-production.
As you may remember, Van Buren PnP was first mentioned by MCA some six months ago. Since then we had virtually no information on this game other than a few photos of skill cards and dice. Now we finally have a chance to delve a bit deeper into the game's background. E.g. MCA talks on Van Buren version of Elijah, how his character evolved from an early idea of a BoS-turned-Cipher companion into an antagonist we know from Dead Money. He also gives us a glimpse on an early, capitalistic slaver army version of Caesar's Legion, which completely lacks any references to ancient Rome.
The podcast itself really deserves attention of every Fallout fan, and many bits and pieces from it are definitely going to be added to The Vault archives on earliest occasion. Thanks WorstUsernameEver40901 for spotting this.
As many of you probably know, the original Meantime was a time travel cRPG by Interplay using the same engine as the original Wasteland and some of the same development team, which was canceled in the early 1990s. And Van Buren was the codename of the canceled version of Fallout 3, which was developed by Black Isle Studios in the early 2000s.
Does it mean that these ill-fated games will eventually see the light of day, even if in the form of spiritual sequels, like Wasteland 2 and Torment: Tides of Numenera? We'll let you know as soon as we know more!
RPGamer's Johnathan Stringer interviews Chris Avellone about his career and what games he would love to make. Naturally, a large part of the interview on Fallout series: Van Buren (and the respective PnP game), Fallout 3, and Fallout: New Vegas.
JS: Changing gears to the Fallout series, you were working on Van Buren which was to become Fallout 3.
CA: Ah yes, good ol' Van Buren!
JS: Yes, there is not really a lot known about this game, how far along were you in development?
CA: Well, I should start off by saying Van Buren went through two stages. One was a very long pre-production period where I was basically the only one working on it for about three to three and a half years. Then Baldur's Gate III was cancelled at Interplay, and the entire Baldur's Gate III team moved on to Van Buren. A few months later, I left Interplay, and Josh Sawyer took over the second iteration of Van Buren. So, for the first part of Van Buren, I was doing area design, pen & paper testing, and checking out mechanics like trying to figure out how ghouls would work as a player character race and super mutants and such. So yeah, there were a lot of mechanics development, a lot of storyline development, and area development. But in terms of actual gameplay aspect, I believe that the vertical slice/demo done proving out some of the basic navigation mechanics were as far as it went, and there were a lot of area design documents. But Van Buren hadn't gone much beyond that and would probably be more of a question for Josh.
JS: Van Buren looked to have an isometric view and gameplay style as was in the first two Fallouts, were you bitter at all about how that plan was cancelled and eventually turned into a 1st or 3rd person shooter RPG? And, though it was well received, do you think the series should have stayed in that same isometric view style?
CA: I am not bitter at all. Actually, Fallout 3 wasn't ever the reason Van Buren was cancelled. Van Buren was cancelled because management didn't feel it was a viable title compared to console titles, and Van Buren was going along the lines of just being a PC only title. Which, you know, had been the case for quite some time before they decided to cancel it. So, I am a little upset they reached that decision somewhat late, but my disappointment is geared towards Interplay's decision and not anything related to future Fallout installments.
I do think Bethesda had a huge challenge with Fallout 3 because they had to remind people what Fallout was, and they had to reintroduce people to the world, which I thought they did a really great job with it. I think, for example, you growing up as a vault dweller, and how they handled that, was a good introduction to the world. I liked their open world mechanics as I think exploration is a big part of the Fallout universe and Fallout 3 did a really great job of doing that. So yeah, I played Fallout 3 and really enjoyed it a lot, and I played the DLCs and enjoyed those, and am really happy to see where they take Fallout in the future.
JS: Well you must have liked Fallout 3 as you worked on the follow up Fallout: New Vegas. Were there some elements of Van Buren that found their way into New Vegas?
CA: Yes! There were so many that crept in. And oddly enough, a lot of it came out of the pen & paper sessions that we were running at Interplay. A lot of the personal conflicts the player characters were having in those sessions that I was game mastering actually ended up as plot lines in New Vegas. Like, the whole idea of the Stealth Boy technology can drive super-mutants and nightkin insane was something we had running in the pen & paper campaign. The Big Empty that we had for Oldworld Blues, that was also a part of Van Buren, although it was more like a military bootcamp in that version. We had the Hoover Dam, and it was set up like this whole floating city that had been built around the dam on one side, and that was moved into New Vegas, although it evolved into a different fashion. We just had a whole bunch of stuff from Van Buren that we brought over into New Vegas, though it just ended up changing design-wise over time, and evolving into cooler and better things.”
Aggrogamer: After Interplay was acquired by Titus, Fargo leaving and Black Isle was shuttered due to financial troubles, what inspired you and your team to start a new studio rather than joining an existing already successful studio like BioWare? Also how did your team respond to this, did it take some convincing? Did any disagree and go to competitors?
Chris Avellone: "Independence" is the best answer. We were still local, we knew the kinds of games we wanted to do, and we wanted a chance to prove it. I doubt we all could have gotten jobs at BioWare (if any of us could've), and we'd always imagined Black Isle as a separate entity in any event — Feargus worked very hard to shield us from all the troubles taking place there in the last few years with Titus, although he was powerless to prevent what happened with Baldur's Gate 3 and he departed several months before Van Buren (Fallout 3) got canceled as well.
We didn't ask anyone to join us, they simply volunteered — and a lot of them volunteered. Speaking for myself, the moment Feargus walked into my office and said he had resigned, my response was "when do I quit?" That was true for a lot of people — Feargus, much like Fargo, had earned a lot of respect over the years, and the current company climate wasn't such that people were willing to remain without being able to work for those same bosses.
I loved working at Black Isle, I loved the Infinity Engine games (even with the increasing pressure to do them faster and faster), and I had put a lot of years into crafting an experience for Fallout 3. Still, after what happened with Baldur's Gate 3, it no longer seemed reasonable to expect that that project would be allowed to be carried to completion, and sure enough, it wasn't.
AG: As far as Fallout 3 (Van Buren) goes is there any chance the files will ever see the light of day like KOTOR2 or HL2 on Dreamcast; or even a legit release from Bethesda down the line someday?
CA: I don't believe those files will ever see the light of day, but I don't know. And it's not up to me anyway. Fallout belongs to Bethesda, I doubt they'd dig through those archives or if they even have all the files in order to share them with the public, and I doubt they'd even want to (I don't see what benefit it would be for them). I do know that a lot of Van Buren docs have ended up on the internet and from what I've seen; they're accurate from what I remember.
I do not believe that we'd ever see the Van Buren game made, which is fine. After all, a lot of the Van Buren stuff ended up mutating and finding a home in New Vegas in any event, so it did gain new life, even if it wasn't exactly the same as it was portrayed in Van Buren (things that showed up include: Hoover Dam, the brain-damaged Nightkin, which originated in one of our pen and paper campaigns at Interplay, Caesar's Legion, the Big Empty in Old World Blues). Also, there's nothing to say that some of the concepts (rival party, Prisoner's Dilemma) couldn't end up in some other game down the line. KOTOR 2 was different because the legacy info was still in the actual game and could be unearthed (we didn't strip those out, and while it wasn't the feeling of everyone at the studio, I'm glad we didn't strip them out).
AG: You and your team got to revisit Fallout again with New Vegas and it's add-ons, was this a something you and your team had to think about or was it just an instant yes?
Would you guys do another Fallout and do you think BethSoft would ever do an alternating dev cycle a-la Activision with Treyarch and IW doing CoD?
CA: Aside from getting the contract squared away, I believe everyone on at the studio was a "yes" on this. Fallout's one of the best RPG franchises to work on, and it was one we didn't think we'd get a chance to return to, and then… New Vegas came along.
We'd love to work on another Fallout, although that would depend on Bethesda. We certainly enjoyed working with them on New Vegas and we still have a lot of cool ideas and adventures we'd love to do for the Fallout universe.”