Tim Cain Reveals His Involvement in Interplay’s Fallout 3 Cancellation: “I Don’t Think It’s a Game You Want to Play”


The original isometric Fallout games were developed by Black Isle Studios in the 1990s, after which the series went on a longer-than-expected hiatus. Publisher Interplay wasn’t having much fun with this in the early 2000s, and one of the projects causing problems was the next mainstream Fallout game: codenamed Project Van Buren, but broadly speaking, Fallout 3.

Tim Cain, the producer of the original Fallout, has been posting YouTube videos in recent years reminiscing about his Black Isle days and some of the major games he and others have worked on. Cain’s latest film focuses on the Van Buren Project, although he was not working at Interplay at the time: Cain left Interplay to become co-founder of Troika Games (best known for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines).

Cain begins with praise a movie he recently watched about Project van Buren, then added that it was missing one detail: his “commitment to canceling it.” Cain kept in touch with senior colleagues, and Interplay’s vice president, whom he leaves unnamed (“We got along well… he had a level 10 charisma”), asked the designer to take a look at one of their designs… but not in a good way.

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Cain begins by recalling a conversation with the vice president. They said something like, “Would you like to come and play one of our game prototypes? We’re making a Fallout game and I’m going to have to cancel it. I don’t think they’ll make it… So I’ll just cancel it, but if you could come and look at it and estimate, there’s a chance I won’t cancel it.

Cain recalls that watching the case involved walking “across the street to the Interplay lobby” and feeling like he should help. This was partly because his friend at Interplay knew how to push the buttons: “If you don’t do it, bad things will happen to other people.”

Cain played a version of Project van Buren for “a while… probably two hours,” which he believed was more or less identical to a technical demo that was leaked in 2007 and from which most of the existing footage of the game comes. He talked to some of the developers working on the game, and then Interplay’s vice president asked Cain what he thought about it and how long it would take to “finish this game and get it shipped.”

Cain didn’t sugarcoat it. He said 18 months could result in “shipping a really good game.” The vice president said there was no way. Cain said that, well, a year of “death march” crisis could perhaps sort it out in 12 months, but he wouldn’t recommend it because it would create something “unbalanced and buggy” and destroy the band.

Cain claims that there is no single “villain” behind the failure of the Van Buren Project, although “some of you may think I am the villain.” He says that people who would point to Interplay’s vice president and hurl insults at him simply have no answer as to where the money would come from: Interplay is the result of years of losses.

“Almost every question people ask about game development has the same answer: money,” Cain says.

The Van Buren project was canceled and Interplay folded in the following years (though the name was retained). Bethesda would acquire the Fallout IP in 2007 and re-imagine the series in 3D, which would be a huge and ongoing success, even if there will always be those who prefer the original incarnation and wonder what Fallout 3 would look like in an alternate universe. But from what Cain says… even if the multiverse was real, there aren’t many versions of Earth where this game ever came to delicate.

Project Van Buren will always have a place in Fallout history, and there’s even a mod project in the works to resurrect the game. However, Cain may have actually known where the game was and what the realistic prospects of its release were, and his assessment has a grain of truth to it, especially because of what later happened to Interplay.

Cain himself is now retired, and so he talks about, among other things, his departure from Interplay, the real reason for Vaults, the various Bloodlines sequels that never came to market, and how his hatred of white chocolate became an Easter egg in The Outer Worlds. Hell, he even found time to defend a recent Amazon show.

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