Home Fallout creator takes you inside the demise of the original Fallout 3

Fallout creator takes you inside the demise of the original Fallout 3


  • Tim Cain shared insights on the original Fallout 3's cancellation at Interplay before Bethesda took over.
  • Cain play-tested Fallout 3 (Van Buren) and estimated it needed 18 months to finish, leading to its cancellation.
  • Interplay's turmoil and the high completion time led to Bethesda acquiring and successfully launching Fallout 3.

Tim Cain, the creator of Fallout, has provided fresh insight into the cancellation of the original Fallout 3 — the one in development at Interplay yet ash-canned five years before Bethesda Game Studios took control of the IP and launched Fallout 3 for PlayStation 3, Windows PC, and Xbox 360.

Rewind: Interplay in the early 2000s was in significant turmoil, burning through cash and running low on reserves. Fallout 2 had launched in 1998; Cain left Interplay-owned Black Isle Studios in 1998 before that game shipped, to found Troika Games “literally across the street from Interplay,” Cain says.

Though Interplay had sued Cain in the intervening years alleging he had taken source code from the original Fallouts with him (which Cain denies), he was still friendly with an unnamed vice president there, who asked him to come play an early build of Fallout 3.

This game would be their first 3D-engine Fallout, somewhat like what Bethesda’s 2008 version would become, instead of the isometric-view, turn-based combat of the first two.

In the video, Cain says that he play-tested Fallout 3 (code-named Van Buren) as a favor to the “veep,” despite colleagues at Troika Games advising him not to get involved in Interplay’s troubles next door. After the test, and several questions of the developers, the devs left the room and “the veep” entered to ask a single question.

“How long do you think it would take the team to complete this game and make it shippable,” he said, according to Cain.

Cain said a year and a half. “I said, ‘I’m convinced in 18 months, you could have a really good game shipped,” Cain recalled. “And he said, ‘Hmm, could it be done any faster?’”

“And I said, well, even if you did a death-march crunch, I don’t think you could do it faster than 12 [months],” Cain says in the video. “And then you’d be shipping something that was unbalanced and buggy, and the team would be destroyed.”

Cain says that as he left the Interplay offices, this executive told him that “any answer over six months was going to result in him having to cancel it, meaning the answer I just gave got the game cancelled.”

Cain began his vlog series about games development in April 2023 to shed more light on what really goes on behind the scenes as programmers, designers, and producers bring gamers’ favorite franchises to term. This video is rather striking because, at its beginning, he assumes at least partial blame for the cancellation of the original Fallout 3, which led directly to Black Isle’s closure.

“First of all, most of the [Fallout 3] team doesn’t know that I was involved [in its cancellation],” Cain says. “It was a very personal thing. Just me and one VP at Interplay really was involved. […] I know some people like to make every story have a villain. And some of you will now view me as the villain, because I assisted in the cancellation of Van Buren.”

Did Tim Cain really cancel Fallout 3?

Cain might be a little hard on himself here. Seen in another light, he fought for the game and its developers, he just didn’t give the “right” answer to someone, however friendly, who already had his mind made up.

What if Cain did overpromise and say “six months”? Then he’d be signing his colleagues up for six months of pure workplace hell, and Fallout fans for a broken, buggy, unpolished disappointment. That would be villainy.

In the aftermath, Bethesda licensed Fallout for three games from cash-strapped Interplay, then bought the property outright in 2007. Todd Howard, the creative director of Bethesda Game Studios, recalled the moment Bethesda took over the series as a Post-It note left on his desk saying, “Fallout’s yours.”

Cain and Troika had tried to reacquire it, but were significantly outbid. The rest, as is said about many things, is history.

Featured image via Bethesda.com

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Owen Good
Gaming Editor (US)

Owen Good is a 15-year veteran of video games writing, also covering pop culture and entertainment subjects for the likes of Kotaku and Polygon. He is a Gaming Editor for ReadWrite working from his home in North Carolina, the United States, joining this publication in April, 2024. Good is a 1995 graduate of North Carolina State University and a 2000 graduate of The Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, in New York. A second-generation newspaperman, Good's career before covering video games included daily newspaper stints in North Carolina; in upstate New York; in Washington, D.C., with the Associated Press; and…

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