Fallout's original co-creator has casually dropped 'the true purpose of vaults' on YouTube

Tim Cain's had a storied career, hasn't he? The man's had a hand in pretty much all of my favourite games: Fallout 1 and 2, Arcanum, Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines, Pillars of Eternity, and Tyranny. Now the legendary game designer has a new hobby: Dropping (in the inimitable words of PCG's Ted Litchfield) "heater after heater" of classic RPG development lore over on his YouTube channel.

One of those heaters is the absolutely irresistible "The true purpose of vaults in Fallout," wherein Cain drops the knowledge that—in his original conception at the end of Fallout 1—the vaults were basically testbeds for a starship.

"If you ever read reports from the '50s about what scientists thought of full-scale, international, superpower nuclear exchange," said Cain, "there basically is no Earth to come back to". That cheery thought gave him an idea, "Maybe that was the whole point: There is no Earth to come back to".

"So the head of the Enclave"—Fallout's quasi-fascist continuity US government after the war, and a secretive deep state apparatus before it—"and probably the very highest levels of the US government were like, 'let's build a starship'".

But because all the other planets in our solar system kind of suck, the starship's voyage would take hundreds if not thousands of years to find somewhere habitable. That meant adapting to the challenges of feeding multiple generations of crew in an enclosed environment, putting people in cryo-storage, and generally making sure your best and brightest didn't die in the vacuum of space. 

And well, by golly, it turned out that Vault-Tec had just the answer for that. "Every vault was in some sense a test," said Cain, even the control vaults like the one that formed the basis of Fallout 2's Vault City. "Vault 13, where the player was originally in Fallout [1], wasn't designed to work. They wanted to see how long these vaults would last and so … generations of overseers in there were told to keep people in".

While we've always known that Fallout's vaults weren't quite the beneficent shelters they were marketed as, and instead served as the basis for a range of ethically dubious scientific experiments, I can't say I've heard this starship lore before. It does make a bit more sense. 

Cain points out that keeping people cooped up underground for decades and centuries just to release them back into a blasted wasteland doesn't really help anyone, but a goal of eventually blowing this joint for interstellar greener pastures? That seems more reasonable. Kinda. After all, it's not too far removed from Mr. House's big scheme—building a rocket and getting out of here with the Wasteland's finest minds—in Fallout: New Vegas.

Cain points out that he has no idea what Bethesda's grand vision for the vaults is, so it may have jettisoned the starship idea entirely (if it was even aware of it). But given that Bethesda already sent us to space once for some reason—in the Mothership Zeta DLC for Fallout 3—it wouldn't exactly be incongruous. 

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.