The meeting to decide Fallout's name had candidates like 'Radstorm' and others that are somehow even worse

Perhaps my favourite thing in the more recent Fallout games is just wandering the wasteland listening to the outstanding selection of old music. The first time "Crawl out through the Fallout" came on, I couldn't believe how funny and perfect it was for the game, encapsulating exactly that kind of nuclear gallows humour that the entire series plays off. In fact it's hard to imagine Fallout being called anything else: But boy, did it dodge several bullets.

Fallout co-creator Tim Cain has in recent times been reminiscing about his earlier days in the industry, and was obviously at developer Interplay when the first title in the series was being developed. Initially the game's builds were labelled 'GURPS' (an in-joke about the tabletop system that inspired many mechanics) and had the codename 'Vault 13' based on the bunker the player starts the game from, but the developers knew this wouldn't do for the final product. After all, if it was a success, were they going to make Vault 13 part 2?

"It’s very very hard to come up with a name for a game, especially a new game with new mechanics, a new setting, and new characters," said Cain. "By the late ‘90s, there was already this vibe that a lot of words were being overused in game names, words like 'dark' or 'shadow' or 'blood.' These were starting to show up so much that we would almost kind of make fun and be like 'let’s call ours Dark World or Dim Place, or Souls of Blood'. They're over-used and we were kind of over it".

One thing was clear: Vault 13 wasn't going to do the job. "It was a bad name," said Cain. "I said we really need to come up with something better." Then Cain produces a relic: A word document containing a memo from June 19, 1996, focused on potential names for the game.

"'This has been an exceptionally difficult time,'" reads the note. "'To find a name for this game that is both catchy and tells somewhat about the premise of the game is not easy. The cool words describing a nuclear war such as 'apocalypse,' 'holocaust,' 'Armageddon,' 'wasteland,' have either already been taken or have religious connotations that we don’t like.'"

There was an Interplay meeting where everyone was invited to suggest names for the new game. "No idea will be critiqued," said Cain at the time, smirking about critiquing them now. Among the candidates were:

  • The Vault
  • Survivors
  • Warriors of the Apocalypse
  • Radstorm
  • Nuclear Winter
  • Doomsday Warrior
  • After the Bomb
  • Hiroshima Revisited
  • Vault 13
  • Remains of the Day
  • Devastated Earth
  • Fallout
  • Nuclear Summer
  • Dying Earth
  • The Rust Age
  • Future Past
  • Dead Glow
  • After Effects
  • After FX
  • Devolution
  • The Surface
  • The Surfacing
  • Out of the Vault
  • Ground Zero
  • Earth AD
  • Moribund World
  • Vault 666
  • World Gone Mad
  • Static Age
  • The Chosen Ones
  • The New World
  • The World Outside
  • Outside the Vault
  • After the Collapse
  • Return to the World
  • Outside

Cain also recalls going to the marketing team, who had their own terrible ideas. Firestorm. Ravaged! Eradicated. Annihilation. At this point Cain is barely able to hold back the laughter. Desiccated. Consumed. Biohazard (!). Mutilation. Scarred Earth. Further into the Wasteland.

Among the candidates was the jewel: Fallout. This was suggested by co-creator Brian Fargo and "I kinda didn't like it" but "sure enough, the next morning I woke up and went ‘Fallout’s actually a really good name,’" remembers Cain. "I suggested it to the team, boom. Everybody loved it. It was the number-one choice, it really worked well for sequels. I specifically did not want to call the first one Fallout 1, I know people call it that these days to distinguish it but to me it's just Fallout".

Cain says that in hindsight this was probably "the easiest naming process ever" because every IP he subsequently worked on that had a similar process ended up in "the most drawn-out meeting after meetings, copyright searches, people pointing out it was too close to something else or had bad connotations or that there was a book or old movie that was already named that."

Now that the dust has settled, Cain thinks they got it bang-on, and is at pains to credit Brian Fargo for not only advocating the name but explaining why it would work, at a time where Cain was too focused on things like there not being any actual radioactive fallout (because in Fallout the nukes landed a long time before everything starts).

"What I really like is, and I'll give it to Fargo for basically pointing this out, that Fallout is a nice, short name that capture the essence of the game: 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," said Cain. "So Fallout fits perfectly. And that's where the whole series got its name."

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."