Fallout creator Tim Cain reveals how the legendary RPG got its name

(Image credit: Xbox Game Studios)

What you need to know

  • The creator of the post-apocalyptic RPG series, Tim Cain, has revealed how Interplay Entertainment settled on the franchise's name.
  • After struggling to choose a title, Cain hosed a brainstorming session in which the developers at the studio threw out a variety of different suggestions.
  • One of these names was Fallout, which ended up sticking after Cain had a discussion with Interplay's founder Brian Fargo.

Fallout is one of the best RPG franchises of all time, but have you ever wondered how its original developers settled on its name? If so, you'll be happy to know that we now have an answer, as series creator Tim Cain has revealed how Interplay Entertainment chose the title in 1996 — one year before the release of Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game.

"It's very very hard to come up with a name for a game. Especially a new game, with new mechanics, and a new setting and new characters...you would think, there's a whole team of creative people who've been working on it, they can just go, 'Boom! This is the name'...it doesn't work that way," said Cain, discussing the difficulty Interplay had picking a name in a video on his YouTube channel. "It's hard to come up with a word or two that captures the essence of your game." Cain also noted that the developers wanted to avoid a title that had connotations, could be shortened into an unfortunate acronym, or included overused terms.

When Cain first began developing Fallout solo, it was simply named Test Bed after the titles he gave to the various engines he was trying out. Then, when Interplay got the license to use the Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS), its label was changed to GURPS. It wasn't until the team began creating the game's setting that the project got its first serious name Vault 13, which is the underground bunker you begin the game in. But Cain soon realized that Vault 13 wouldn't cut it.

"I said, 'If we ever make a sequel, we cannot call this game Vault 13 because what would the sequel be? Vault 13...2? Vault 14? More Vault 13?' It was a bad name," Cain said. "So that's when I said that we need to come up with something better."

Cain explained that the developers had a brainstorming session in which team members were encouraged to suggest anything that came to mind. "I asked people to come to the conference room and just throw out ideas," Cain said. "And I will say, I said, 'No idea will be critiqued,' although I may critique them now," he added.

The cover art of 1997's Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game, the first game in the series. (Image credit: Interplay Entertainment)

Reading through his "Naming the Game" notes from 1996, Cain listed every suggestion from this session with a huge grin on his face. These included The Vault, Ground-Zero, Survivors, Warriors of the Apocalypse, Radstorm ("I think that one was mine," Cain said with a grimace), Nuclear Winter, Doomsday Winter, After the Bomb, and many, many more. Among these names, though, was Fallout. And while Cain didn't like it initially, he ended up loving it after Interplay founder Brian Fargo (now the CEO of inXile Entertainment, the studio behind Wasteland 3) gave it his approval.

"Every now and then I'd have meetings with Brian Fargo, and I suggested to him what I thought were the best ones on this list ... I don't think I mentioned Fallout. My programmer brain back then was like, 'Fallout? There's no fallout, it's 80 years later, that kind of ionizing radiation has decayed,'" Cain said, making fun of his original opinion. "Brian came back the next day and said, 'Why don't you just name it Fallout? Great name, it's a word, probably won't even be shortened.' ... And I kinda didn't like it, and I said, 'Let me think about it.'"

"Sure enough, the next morning I woke up and went, 'Fallout is actually a really good name.' I suggested it to the team...boom. Everybody loved it. ... Fallout is a nice short name. Captures the essence of the game," he continued. "You say 'Fallout,' and you immediately think, 'Well this is probably a post-apocalyptic game. And it's probably not a happy post-apocalyptic game.' So Fallout fits perfectly. And that's where the whole series got its name."

Every Fallout game, including Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 4, Fallout 76, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel is available on Xbox consoles, Windows PCs, or both. With an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you'll get access to most of these games on both platforms (Fallout 1, 2, and Tactics are PC only).


Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game

The legendary game that started it all is now available on PC Game Pass or through Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Experience the post-apocalyptic RPG from Interplay Entertainment that spawned one of gaming's largest franchises.

See at: Microsoft | Steam (GMG)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.