Creating a realistic vision of Washington in ruins for Fallout 3 took four years. “Two of our guys got thrown out taking pictures around the Capitol,” says Emil Pagliarulo. “They don’t like it when you’re trying to figure out the structural integrity of the monuments.” Images courtesy of Bethesa Softworks.
Howard and Pagliarulo chose which sites to include based on what would be the most fun as a player. Says Pagliarulo: “Every morning, one of us would have a new idea.”
Setting the game in a real-world city stirred up controversy. Before the game’s release, the Washington Post printed a letter from a DC resident angered by ads for the game showing the city in ruins.
And concerns over Fallout 3’s imagery turned into national news in 2008 when early concept pictures of the game’s ravaged DC landscape circulated on an Al-Qaeda–affiliated Web site.
“The intelligence group that found the picture put it out saying, ‘The terrorists made it, and this is what they want to do to us,’ ” says Howard.
The Fallout 3 team recognized the picture once it hit the news. Howard was nervous about how Bethesda Softworks would be portrayed.
“We actually ended up looking pretty good,” he says. “Keith Olbermann made fun of the mix-up on his show. We were worried it would bring up the whole ‘video games are evil’ argument again, but everybody took it in stride.”
Just before the release, Bethesda Softworks took over DC’s Metro Center station with a big ad campaign featuring shots from the game, including a caved-in Capitol dome and a banner reading prepare for the future. Pete Hines, Bethesda Softworks’ head of public relations and marketing, says morning commuters stopped in their tracks.
“How often do you see people standing there staring at an ad?” says Hines. “At that point, I knew this was going to be good. It felt like an event instead of just a game.”
The success of Fallout 3 has allowed the studio to build a 30,000-square-foot expansion for a gym, a kitchen, and space on the second floor for the basement programmers. “These guys are pretty excited to get out of this dungeon and upstairs into the light,” Hines says.
In October, Bethesda Softworks released a special edition of Fallout 3 with new content, including a spooky version of Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park, and anticipation is building for the studio’s next step. There are rumors about a Fallout movie or television series.
“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and laugh and think it’s all a big cosmic joke and I’m in a dream,” Pagliarulo says. “I wish I could go back in time to my 13-year-old self, when life sort of sucked, and say, ‘Don’t worry, everything’s gonna work, this is where you’re gonna end up.’ ”
Says Howard: “The fact that we get paid to do this is pretty ridiculous. It’s the ultimate creative/technical/geeky outlet. Best job in the world.”