Few other games have captured the essence of Americana quite like Fallout. In Fallout 3, you can spy the battered remains of the Washington Monument—the obelisk at the center of the National Mall—from almost anywhere in the Capital Wasteland. Likewise, the historical monuments of Fallout 4 are some of the most famous historical sights from Boston. But more than this architecture is the nuggets of American ethos and jingoism buried among the detritus of the Wasteland, like the genteel Enclave president John Henry Eden in Fallout 3, who broadcasts patriotic speeches over his radio station while reminiscing about the national pastime of the good ol' days: baseball. From Washington D.C. to Massachusetts, Fallout has captured the zeitgeist of America in the 1950s, albeit one that achieved incredible technological advancement, then torn apart by the ravages of war.
So what about the rest of the country? That's where passionate modders come in, putting together a patchwork of a post-apocalyptic America set in the Fallout universe. Working individually or within expansive teams made up of as many as 100 members, the modders are reconstructing simulacra of American landmarks and states—only it's seen through the Fallout goggles of nostalgia, kitsch, and satire.
The Retro-Revival Aesthetic of Miami
One such landmark is the city of Miami, a quintessential part of America and a popular vacation spot with its sandy beaches, flashy art deco-style architecture, and bustling nightlife. For the Fallout Miami team, a DLC-sized mod for Fallout 4, they had a very specific interpretation of Miami in mind. They seek to tell a weighty tale based on the conflicting themes of individual freedom and government control, which contrasts strongly against Miami's dreamy blue-pink aesthetic.
"We are trying to look at Miami itself as a city, what it is representative of, its real world history, how we can combine that with our alternative history," says K. Constantine, the creative director of Fallout Miami. "There are locations in the United States that has this absolutely unique vibe, and it immediately brings images to mind... Miami stands out from a lot of those [places] because it combines the aspects of American society with this sort of tropical island vibe, with the palm trees and the white sandy beaches."
Nestled in Fallout's post-apocalyptic version of Miami are feral ghouls that wear sunglasses and inflatable pool tubes, mindlessly roaming the Miami Beach, now wrecked by frequent sandstorms and littered with the remains of rusted cruise ships and broken beach chairs. In the background are palm trees and what used to be hotels housing prisoners and slaves, bringing to mind Paradise Falls in Fallout 3. Crops are bountiful as well, which hints at how the area is sustained by a thriving slave trade.
One of these hotels is perhaps the Fontainebleau Hotel, one of current-day Miami's largest and most luxurious hotels. Constantine mentions that the building will make an appearance in Fallout Miami as a slaver haven where players can potentially explore. "What happens if the apocalypse happens? A hotel is a place where people can find safety. As a result we came to this really interesting idea, where maybe the staff locked this hotel down for a bit and turn it into some kind of fortress. and later started letting people come in from the outside, offering them safety in exchange for work," adds Constantine. "Eventually that kind of develops into this pseudo kingdoms of slavers." By juxtaposing the laidback image that people have of Miami against the hyperviolent rendition of the city in Fallout, Constantine hopes to tie their story back to Fallout's trademark satirical depiction of America.
"We definitely want to capture the romantic image of Miami that exists in people's minds right now, that's very, very heavily tied to the retro wave music genre that has been popular in the past few years and has been popularized by games like Hotline Miami. But to us, that is sort of the main goal: to achieve that feeling within the players' mind. Maybe it's a little less about actually recreating Miami as it is, or as it was in the 1950s, but more about recreating how people feel that Miami was at that period of time," says Constantine.
A Wintry Look at Portland, Oregon
Conversely, the team behind Fallout: The Frontier, a mod for Fallout: New Vegas, just wanted any American location to tell a winter-set story, and decided on Portland, Oregon. And given how the two main factions in the original game—the NCR and the Legion—will be clashing with each other once more in the mod, the city also felt like a logical choice for them in terms of geographical distance, since New Vegas took place in the region consisting of Nevada, California, and Arizona.
"I know some of you from Oregon may say there is no way in hell that Portland gets this much snow and some location in Canada may fit better with the Frontier. While this is true, keep in mind that it would have been even harder to fit the NCR and the Legion that far up north with a reasonable explanation," explains the team on the project's FAQ page. When asked to elaborate, the Project Manager of the mod, who's known as tgspy, simply says that it mostly boils down to convenience.
"We've tried to remain accurate to the city of Portlandia much as we could, including streets and important landmarks. We decided to just try and make the story and landscape as interesting as possible," says tgspy.
Portland in Fallout: The Frontier will feature what's probably the harshest winter the city will ever see, with the location completely enveloped in blankets of snow. In the real world, the climate of is relatively mild, mostly just with heavy showers beginning in November and lasting through spring. With the drastic difference in weather, the team is including a new feature called chill factor that provides an additional challenge of coping with the biting cold. While Portland's also home to a litany of breweries, tgspy also says they aren't planning to feature any specific ones at this point "since we'd need permission." However, a local landmark that will be making an appearance is the classic neon White Stag bulb sign, one of the most recognizable icons of Portland.
The Heart of the Bible Belt
Then there's Atlanta, Georgia in Fallout Atlanta, another ambitious New Vegas mod that's about giving The Big Peach the Fallout treatment, with players even able to take a leisurely boat ride down the Chattahoochee River or sleep in one of the rooms of the Peachtree Towers condominium.
Speaking to the creator lolpop109 over email, he mentions he's currently in the midst of implementing Stone Mountain, a dome mountain featuring the likeness of the Confederate leaders—President Jefferson Davis, and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson—into the mod. "I'll try what places I can [put] into the mod, but I mostly have to do a scaled back highly artist version. The areas are a lot smaller, but hopefully people should enjoy it," he says.
While scant on details about the plot at the moment—screenshots of the mod he shared still looked to be in its earliest stages for now—lolpop109 mentioned that the basic premise behind the mod is about travelling in a caravan to Atlanta. Having long been fascinated by the movement of migrants and how settlements formed in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, he wanted to build a federation that features trading between the various settlements.
Erik Fishy, a developer who's helping out with the project, also shares that lolpop109 had considered injecting religious themes into the project, given the dominant role of religion along the Bible Belt where Georgia is part of. "There were discussions of what might be done with something like that, but a longer conversation that we had was about that sort of narrative, like some faction who's a fanatical, who still holds on to religious ideals from before the war," he says. Plenty about the project is still up in the air, he adds, but Georgia was also chosen partly because it's much more rural as compared to the metropolitan cities that are already featured in the main Fallout games. "Well, compared to say Fallout 3 and 4 for example, which are both very urban and metro areas—lots of city type things—Georgia is the south of America and is, I guess, more country-like. So there would be more sprawling landscapes rather than a lot of buildings."
The Flora of the Pacific Northwest
The lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, also known as Cascadia, is one of the region's most enduring sights. So, it comes as no surprise that it's brought to virtual life as the Pacific Wasteland in Fallout: Cascadia. A Fallout 4 mod set predominantly in the wreckage of Seattle, one of its most striking features is the amount of greenery and trees interspersed with scenes of a crumbling city and countryside. This is a stark difference from the main series' focus on more concrete cities, and the team explains that this treatment is possible due to how far ahead the mod is in terms of the Fallout timeline, with nature having the "chance to reestablish itself."
"Our level designers have put extensive research into landmarks, districts, and hidden gems that are hidden throughout the city and the surrounding wasteland," writes the team over email. "Surrounding locations like Dash Point Park can also be found on our map, albeit we grapple with a familiar foe in terms of Fallout world design: scaling. Trying to fit as many identifiable areas onto our map as possible sometimes means that things might be shifted just a bit, but what we do have we want to recreate to the best of our ability." While the Fallout: Cascadia team prefer to keep most parts of their game under wraps, they did reveal that they will be recreating some famous monuments in Seattle such as the towering Space Needle, the city's observation tower.
Another curious feature the team teases is the ability to drink, and perhaps brew, coffee. "Anyone like coffee? Wait, what do you mean it's not just a Northwest thing? Oh well...", they add. "We even have a certain group out in our Wasteland who are very much in tune with coffee. Hopefully that counts."
A Fond Farewell to Coos Bay
One of the newest large-scale mods to be created for the Fallout series is Fallout: Coos Bay, a Fallout 4 mod set in the quiet town of Coos Bay, Oregon, which is known for its coastlines, fishing towns, and rivers, particularly that of the Coos River. It's also a deeply personal setting for the creator. "For the average gamer, it's just another world to explore while taking in the unique sights and memorabilia. For my fellow locals, it's a curious look on their hometown. For me, it's the next big step in my life. It's my own version of home where I can shape it into the apocalyptic parallel of Fallout. It's also the way I can say goodbye to the place I grew up and move on," says Marshfielder1908, who is the developer behind the project.
Having spent his childhood in Coos Bay, he wanted to bring a slice of this small town to Fallout, which would offer a distinct experience from the bigger American cities as seen in the other mods and games. "I'm not talking about Nowheresville USA with a population of six, but cities that never hit the big times," he added. "You've got the small oldtown environment, and the sense of community these city dwellers only hear about. We all know that the big cities got obliterated in the war, but what about all of those small towns? This game is for them too."
In the mod version of Coos Bay, only one bomb was sent to destroy Coos County, but it was shot down by its locals. Even though the residents tried to continue on with their lives, they soon came to the conclusion that they had to isolate themselves off from the world. Marshfielder1908 is hesitant to reveal more about the project, but said that he has been working on fine-tuning the smaller landmarks in Coos Bay.
It's not a 1:1 creation, as Marshfielder1908 isn't interested in replicating the town's beaches because "those are for tourists." Instead, he wants to focus on recreating the town's small but bustling atmosphere, as well as its residents. "There are two main settlements in the game, both of which are centered in the main downtown areas: Coos Bay and North Bend," he elaborates. "Coos County was once a bustling area with its massive export of lumber, but this eventually died down to the depression it's in today. In the Fallout universe however, it never stopped."
When asked when Fallout: Coos Bay will be completed, Marshfielder1908 says that that's truly the question of a lifetime. "I can be hopeful and give a rough guess of two to four years, if I stay at the same pace I have been for the last year and a half." Likewise, the other modders I spoke to gave similar responses.
It's not hard to see why these projects are often several years in the making. While making a full-fledged game typically involves a studio full of professionals and a truckload of money, these ambitious Fallout mods are passion projects that are only worked on during their creators' free hours, with the teams typically not seeing a single cent for their efforts. Fallout Atlanta's lolpop109 admitted that his mod is a huge undertaking, and isn't sure when he can ever complete it given that it's mostly worked on by himself. Even teams as massive as that of Fallout Cascadia's, with around 100 members, have devoted years into the project. (They've been working on the mod since November 2015) Essentially, these are the efforts of enthusiasts and volunteers who're taking out hours and hours of their time to develop free expansions out of a sense of attachment to these real-world places and love for the Fallout world.
More than just throwbacks to the American iconography of the 1950s, the painstaking care taken to replicate the details of the myriad landmarks, while weaving a brand new Fallout tale into these landscapes, is a monumental achievement. Decades later, we may still see more states and iconic American locations produced in the image of Fallout's post-apocalyptic world. Mods that are piecing together not just devastated versions of familiar cities, but ones that show that survivors of great tragedy can always rebuild and thrive, even as a post-apocalyptic nation.