Fallout is considered to be the spiritual successor of the critically acclaimed 1988 role-playing game (RPG) Wasteland. Released by Interplay Entertainment in 1997, Fallout combines a cheery retro-futuristic sensibility-derived from 1950 American popular culture-with a grim presentation of the world after nuclear annihilation. The game takes place in an alternate history universe where the transistor and microprocessor technologies were never discovered, and where the United States and China are locked in an ever escalating Cold War.

The story begins in 2161, more than 80 years after the USA and China descended into a two hour nuclear exchange known as the Great War. Before the Great War, the U.S. government began the construction of 122 fallout shelters known as "Vaults." These Vaults were meant to be self-sufficient and capable of maintaining life until the outside world was no longer a threat. Instead, the Vaults were used as a series of social and biological experiments created by the remnants of pre-war U.S. government. In many cases, entire populations inside the Vaults were destroyed long before being opened to the outside world. Survivors on the surface risked irradiation, starvation, or mutation. In the Fallout series, players are sent on an adventure to explore the dangerous post-apocalyptic worlds above and below ground. Because supplies are rare, life in the wasteland is violent and most people are armed with homemade or scavenged weapons.

As with most RPGs, players begin by assigning attributes to their character. In Fallout, this character creation system is called SPECIAL, an acronym of Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Players are given a set number of points that they can assign to attributes, with one being the lowest and ten being the highest number of points allowed for each attribute. Additionally, players have specific skill categories, ranging from combat skills to activity skills, which can be improved as they progress through the game.

Early Fallout games were isometric, or top-down, RPGs that featured a turned-based combat system. Different actions performed during a combat turn would cost a predetermined number of "action points." Action points could be increased as players gained experience.

Later games in the series introduced a first-person perspective, real-time combat, and highly detailed 3D graphics. They also incorporated an optional turn-based system known in the game as the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S. While activated, real-time gameplay is paused and the game displays the target's health meter and a percentage of how likely the attack will be successful. Like the original turn-based system, various actions performed while using the V.A.T.S. system cost action points.

Along with numerous awards and accolades, the game was featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum's exhibit "The Art of Video Games." The Fallout franchise has grown to be one of the most successful and critically acclaimed gaming franchises of all time.


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