December 4, 2015

Fallout 4: Stuck in the 50s by Choice or by Technology?


Fallout 4 is amazing. I love the atmosphere, the weapons, the crazy physics, the weird side quests. Sure it has PLENTY of bugs and questionable design choices, but it’s a fun game to play and a fun game for my friends to watch me play (apparently).

On the launch day a buddy of mine was watching me and the conversation came up about how the atmosphere in the Fallout universe is a warped version of the 50s despite the fact that the Great War that turned the earth into a nuclear wasteland happened in 2077. That was his first mistake.

As some of you may know, the degree I’m working towards is computer based. Because of this, I’ve studied to the history of computers. I began to rant about why I believe that the 50s feel of the Fallout universe technology can be explained based upon our differences in technological advancement.

The Post World War 2 Technological Split

War is always a terrible time for man kind. The two world wars in particular were some of the very worst. However, war has always jump-started research and development of some of the most crucial technologies we use today.

The difference between our universe and the Fallout universe is which technologies we focused on developing. These technologies were developed during or immediately after WW2. The Fallout universe obviously focused heavily on nuclear energy. Our universe however focused on more of the electrical side of things; in particular, a component called the transistor.

 Nuclear Power

As seen around 1:00 in the video I linked (which is the opening cut scene of FO4) the Fallout universe truly embraced nuclear power, unlike our universe. While that’s not to say that our universe has not made great strides with nuclear power, we are no where near the level of that of our Fallout counterpart.

In the video we can see robots, computers, cars, houses, and more. Technology that is electrical or motorized in our world is nuclear powered. It’s even more impressive that these things are fully operational 200 years after the Fallout. This would not happen with our technology.

The Vacuum Tube

To understand the transistor we should talk about the vacuum tube a bit. Vacuum tubes are small glass tubes with a copper filament inside of it that conducts electricity. These were used to do many different things such as ” amplification, rectification, switching, oscillation, and display.”, based off of Wikipedia.

If you go around salvaging and picking up junk in Fallout you will see a TON of vacuum tubes. They’re found in the electrical devices around the Commonwealth and will give you x2 glass and x1 copper material per vacuum tube.

Vacuum tubes aren’t used for much thanks to the invention of the transistor.

The Transistor

In 1947, less than 2 years after the end of WW2, AT&T Bell labs developed the transistor.  The transistor today is such a crucial part of our lives. Basically it does what the vacuum tube did, but faster, more efficiently, cheaper, and the component is CONSIDERABLY smaller.

Thanks to the transistor, we were able to make circuits and eventually computer chips exponentially smaller. An observation in the real world called Moore’s Law states that every two years the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit is doubled. This has remained true for the past 50 years!

Differences in Gadgets

I suppose this section is not entirely fair as theoretically we have about 62 more years to go until we can level the playing field. However, if we completely disregard the fact that the Fallout universe is FAR more advanced in robotics and some other technologies than our universe we can actually make some pretty decent comparisons.

I mean come on people, it's 2277!

I mean come on people, it’s 2277!


Touching on the terminals we see in plenty of buildings that control simple things such as locks, defenses, and lights we can definitely agree that computers were pretty simplistic. They give off a rustic 90s feel to them simply being what seems to be a basic command window. Using holodisks a user could record/listen to tapes or even play games which were similar to 8-bit games. This is the extent of the computer tech in 2077 for the Fallout universe.

A major breakthrough in computer tech in the Fallout universe seems to be the Pip-Boy,  a portable computer. Basically it allows you to do everything a computer would let you do with the addition of having radio broadcasts, a flashlight, and the health status of the user. Seems sort of familiar to something we have right now in the real world, doesn’t it?

The smartphone I’m sure everyone reading this knows what these are, hell I’m sure some of you are reading this on a smartphone. Smartphones can do practically everything the pip-boy can do and better. Maybe not the whole telling the status of our limbs and HP, but you get my point. Our computers are better, faster, and most importantly, smaller.

Power Sources

This one is hands-down a win for the Fallout universe. While at the crossroads of which technology we would choose to develop post WW2, that’s not even close to the top of the list for our universe by comparison to the Fallout universe. The fact that robots, computers, buildings can all still be powered and/or functional after 200 years of no upkeep is absurd.

Pretty much all we use nuclear power technology is for the power plants themselves. There are technologies that atomic energy is being researched/developed for. We just aren’t as obsessed with nuclear power like the Fallout universe.

Television and Electronic Entertainment

Due to our development and obsession with the transistor, we are able to have those huge 100 foot flat screen TVs in full color and high definition. This is also a bit of a back track to the computer section of this part of the comparison as the technology is basically the same.

It is interesting that the radio is such a popular source of entertainment. Even before the bomb it seemed that families would listen to the radio and the television only became really popular in more recent times. I’m basing this speculation mostly around the The Silver Shroud quest line as a lot of the terminals in the comics store talk about producing a television show based off of the popular comic/radio show super hero, the Silver Shroud. 

Side note: as a Bostonian I loved that Hubris Comics was in the same location as the original Newbury Comics.

Due to the transistor, we are light years ahead of the entertainment technology from the Fallout universe. It’s impressive that the radios and televisions can still work after 200 years. They’re still in black and white with comparatively terrible sound quality.


The point of my post is that the reason why some of the tech looks the way it is, is because of the split in the time lines between real life and the Fallout universe immediately after WW2. They chose to focus on utilizing nuclear energy, whereas we focused on other technologies such as the transistor.

If we had focused on nuclear energy the world would be a very different place than we know it.

In reality though I know this is entirely a design choice and presents a very unique and interesting setting for the Fallout series. Still, fan theories are pretty fun to write.

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