Fallout – Victor And Vegas Vic

The Fallout video game franchise is unique in that it re-imagines real world locations that the player character can explore – except it’s two hundred years in the future and the world has been devastated by nuclear war. Fallout 3, for instance, takes place in Washington D.C. and characters can visit the crater where the White House once stood, take the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument, and pay a visit to the Lincoln memorial (among many, many other locations and landmarks). In Fallout: New Vegas, the player character can wander down Freemont Street and head up to the heavily-fortified New Vegas Strip, guarded by a fleet of advanced security robots. One of these securitrons is unique, however – his name is victor and he’s voiced by character actor William Sadler, who you might recognize from The Shawshank Redemption, The Flash television series, and Iron Man 3.

Victor is (almost always) the second non-player-character you meet upon beginning Fallout:New Vegas. He’s waiting outside of Doc Mitchell’s house when you first enter the overworld. He has a cheeky cowboy drawl reminiscent of 1950’s western films and a unique visage. This being a ‘Mojave Desert’ and ‘Las Vegas’ themed adventure, it makes sense that Victor is modeled after a real-world Las Vegas Landmark: Vegas Vic.

Vegas Vic is synonymous with Las Vegas, even if you never knew his name. He’s featured on all types of Las Vegas apparel, posters, and shot glasses, and there’s almost always an obligatory shot of him in any film that takes place in the neon city. He’s a 40-foot-tall neon cowboy that was installed on the outside of The Pioneer Club in 1951. He was designed in 1947 in response to a request from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. Vegas Vic and and his famous “howdy partner” greeting was established in hopes of drawing new visitors to the city.

The Pioneer Club no longer operates as a casino, but Vegas Vic can still be seen at 25 E Freemont Street above a souvenir shop. Pioneer Hotels still owns a gambling hall in Laughlin, Nevada, along the Colorado River. A similar sign, referred to as River Rick, can be found there.

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Fallout – Red Army Propaganda

Propaganda postIn the Fallout Universe, the player character is forced to survive in a hostile nuclear wasteland, seeking out food and clean water in irradiated territories decimated by a war from two hundred years ago. Navigable roadways are rife with scavengers and bands of lawless raiders.

Because heightened tensions between the United States and Communist China preceded the nuclear conflict of Fallout, it would follow that the skeletal remains ‘old world’ city settlements, upon examination, provide clues to what life was like before the bombs dropped.

Surviving buildings are smattered with pro-America, anti-communist propaganda. The game designers took their inspiration for these posters directly from the High Soviet Modernist style from the real world. The image above is but one example of a true-to-life Red Army recruitment poster from the Soviet Union and it’s fictionalized ‘Fallout 3’ counterpart.

This is probably one of the greatest elements of the game. The designers took ‘world-building’ to a whole new level when developing the franchise. Each iteration of the Fallout Universe reveals the strictest attention to detail, resulting in an highly atmospheric and detail-rich game world for the player to explore. ‘Immersive’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe the experience of exploring the world Bethesda Game Studios has created.

Fallout – Bob’s Big Boy

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As Paradise falls, so falls Paradise Falls.

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In the western hills of The Capital Wasteland a tall monument can be seen in the distance. The remnants of a commercial shopping center, Paradise Falls is the home of the largest slaver camp in ‘Fallout 3.’ A hulking fast food mascot hovers over the camp’s guard tower and chain-link slave pens, bearing a significant resemblance to a real-world mascot.

The Big Boy restaurant chain began as Bob’s Pantry in Glendale, California in 1936. “Home of the Big Boy Hamburger,” the chain is most recognizable by its trademark chubby boy in a red-and-white checkered pair of overalls holding a double-decker cheeseburger.

The early versions of the statues were huge, measuring up to 14 feet tall. Naturally, the version in ‘Fallout 3’ avoids infringement by eliminating the checkered outfit and replacing the burger with an ice cream cone – that and it stands significantly taller than any of it’s real-world counterparts. At one point in the early concept sketches of Paradise Falls, game designers were interested in having a scaffolding wrapped around the statue with a sniper’s nest atop the sculpture’s head. Time constraints prevented this from becoming a reality.

In recent years, Big Boy statues have come into conflict with local zoning ordinances, and  the closing of several locations has seen the dismantling some of the statues. Many of them have been acquired by private individuals, and they appear somewhat regularly on eBay. Smaller versions are still sold today as coin banks and bobbleheads (another theme in ‘Fallout 3’), and vintage Big Boy ash trays, salt & pepper shakers, and wooden counter displays are still floating around out there.

lard lad

References to the famous Big Boy statue are ubiquitous in popular culture. From Bruce Springsteen lyrics and Austin Powers to The Simpsons (“Lard Lad Donuts”) and elsewhere, the days of Bob’s Big Boy are far from over.

Have a happy holocaust!

Fallout – Strategic Nuclear Moose

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“And God said: Let them have beer!”

One of the least important locations on the “Fallout: New Vegas” map, Brewer’s Beer Bootlegging is the official title of a small shack located northeast of McCarran airport, due east of the Sunset Sarsaparilla corporate office. The Mojave Wasteland is a forbidding place, but no amount of nuclear holocaust will keep a good brewer down! The shack appears to be abandoned, but the interior leads to an underground bootlegging operation that has been recently used.

Complete with fermenters, crates, and consumable beer, the crowning touch is the painted shipping pallet in the corner. The white paint reads: Strategic Nuclear Moose – let them drink beer. This is a reference to real-life Scottosh brewing company BrewDog. Their attention-grabbing achievement is known as “Tactical Nuclear Penguin,” boasting a whopping 32% alcohol content.

Previously branded irresponsible for an 18.2% beer called “Tokyo,” the gentlemen behind the operation decided to thumb their nose at critics first with a low-alcohol beer called “Nanny State” before eventually unleashing “Tactical Nuclear Penguin.”

A warning on the label states: “This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whiskey, a Frank Zappa album, or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”

I would stab a guess that somebody on staff at Bethesda Game Studio is a fan.

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Fallout – Stephen King’s “The Shining”

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Today’s “Fallout” easter egg is a simple one, but it’s also one of my favorites.

To the uninitiated, there’s a location on the map in The Capital Wasteland where people have survived, barricaded behind a mountain of k-rails, slabs of salvaged pavement, and the walls of a lone surviving structure. Tenpenny Tower, a rotting spire of concrete named after it’s founding inhabitant, is a fortified settlement in the territories west of the Downtown DC ruins. Formerly a luxury hotel, it is the tallest surviving building on the map, with the Washington Memorial a likely second.

The residents of Tenpenny Tower are a collective of elitist snobs who, behind their reinforced concrete barricades and a well-armed security force, do not take a liking to the poor and hungry drifters who occasionally stumble across the dusty cracked monolith. Allistair Tenpenny only allows affluent and “cultured” individuals inside his hotel, prejudiced against the pour and against the ugly so-called “ghouls.”

For those of you who don’t know – and if you don’t, the why the heck are you even reading this?! – ghouls are humans who have been deformed due to exposure to high levels of radiation. Some ghouls are feral and will attack anybody on-sight, but there are underground societies of mentally acute ghouls. These are perfectly sound, rational human beings with a serious case of flesh-rot. Prejudice against them is rampant in settlements across the wastes because of their unsightly appearance and fears that they may become feral. Their presence in the “Fallout” universe is a clever way to inject themes of racial prejudice into the narrative without invoking actual real-world ethnicities.

(this is also one of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of “District 9”)

On the mid-floor apartments in Tenpenny, there’s a tricycle in the hallway, along with blood-stains on the walls and an overturned chair. This is a direct reference to Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film “The Shining,” based on the novel by Stephen King. Midway through the film, Danny Torrence happens upon two little girls dressed in blue while riding his big-wheel through the corridors of the hotel. In a flash, Danny sees a murder scene with the two girls laying on the ground, butchered, with blood covering the walls and an upturned chair on the floor.

Little nods like this are everywhere in the “Fallout” universe, but this one is absolutely marvelous.

For ever, and ever, and ever…

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Bonus Game Fact: Emil Pagliarulo, lead game designer and lead writer on the “Fallout 3” project confirmed that Tenpenny Tower (and its associated game quest) was partially inspired by Fiddler’s Green, the skyscraper in George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead.” The story line is similar enough, with arrogant elites inside, and ghoulish creatures outside, looking for a way in.

 

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Fallout – Howard Hughes And Mr. House

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The House always wins.

A goodly number of “Fallout” fans play through “New Vegas” without ever noticing the incredibly striking parallels between the Vegas Strip’s monolithic figure – the reclusive pragmatist Robert Edwin House – and the real-world filmmaker and aviation magnate Howard Hughes. Looking at the image above, it’d be a stretch to call it a coincidence. Mr. House’s biography draws heavily on the life and career of Hughes in a wonderful homage to mid-century America.

Let’s take a look at a brief breakdown of their respective biographies.

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Robert House: Born to a wealthy tool magnate. He was orphaned at an early age and was cheated out of his inheritance. Despite this setback, he attended the Commonwealth Institute of Technology (inspired by MIT) and founded RobCo Industries, a robot manufacturing empire that plays a significant role throughout the “Fallout” series. His technical genius and prolific business skills made him a leading figure in aerospace engineering, Vegas Casinos & entertainment, and even reacquired the H&H Tool Company from his half-brother.

Mr. House survives the nuclear apocalypse in a cryogenic chamber of his own design. After two hundred years of preservation, however, he cannot risk leaving his isolation chamber; exposure to outside contaminants would prove deadly. He rules the whole of the New Vegas Strip remotely, using an army of security robots (securitrons) and has brokered treaties with regional tribes, who he has employed to repair and re-open The Strip.

In his corporate portrait (pictured above) we see Mr. House standing in front of one of his greatest robotic achievements, Liberty Prime, a building-sized robot designed to assist American troops in fighting the communist Chinese. Liberty Prime, known to anybody who has played “Fallout 3”, is central to the game’s plot. This portrait is a fun hint at the development and history of Liberty Prime that we don’t see until the follow-up game, “Fallout: New Vegas.”

Howard Hughes: Born to a successful inventor and businessman who founded the Hughes Tool Company in 1909. He demonstrated high aptitude in science and technology at a very young age. In particular, he become interested in engineering, building Houston’s first “wireless” radio transmitter at age 11. He used spare parts from a steam engine to make a motorized bicycle, took his first flying lesson at 14, and attended math & aeronautical engineering courses at Cal-Tech.

Both of Howard Hughes’ parents died when he was a teenager – his mother from complications of an ectopic pregnancy and his father from a heart attack. Hughes took his inheritance and became a Hollywood tycoon in the 1920s before forming the Hughes Aircraft Company. He broke several world air speed records, acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines, and revolutionized commercial air travel.

In later life, he began to evince symptoms of mental illness, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is remembered for eccentric behavior, impulsive spending, and an unhealthy obsession with germs. In November of 1966, Hughes traveled to Las Vegas and moved into the Desert Inn. He refused to leave the hotel and decided to purchase it in order to avoid conflict with the owners; he made the ninth-floor penthouse his personal residence. He subsequently purchased The Castaways, New Frontier, The Landmark Hotel and Casino, and The Sands.

He would be isolated for weeks at a time, handled common items with tissues to avoid contamination, and become obsessed with underground nuclear testing at he Nevada Test Site. He severely disapproved of nuclear testing, fearing exposure to radiation. Hughes is reported to have died on April 5, 1976, although no definitive record exists. He had suffered from severe malnutrition, likely the result of his obsession with microbes and infection, and a later autopsy stated kidney failure as the cause of death.

– – –

Wealthy parents, tool companies, aerospace engineering, eccentricity, isolation, and fear of contamination. The script writers at Bethesda Game Studios paid strict attention to detail, straight down to the Howard Hughes initials for the game’s H&H Tool Company. Beyond that, Mr. House has a security robot named Jane; we later discover that Mr. House has an unusual attachment to the automaton. This computer companion is likely a reference to Jane Russell, a starlet who was under contract to Howard Hughes for a brief period of time and was also one of his lovers.

Mr. House also has a peculiar hobby collecting snow-globes. There is a good chance that this is a reference to the snow-globe in the opening scene of Orson Wells’ classic film “Citizen Kane.” While not one of Hughes’ films, it is considered an undeniable classic contemporaneous with Hughes’ own cinematic achievements. Additionally, “Citizen Kane” took it’s inspiration from another business tycoon: William Randolf Hearst.

Certainly, much more could be scribbled down about these two – and believe me, I am deeply fascinated with William Randolf Hearst – but these are the major points. It is this level of creativity, appreciation of history, and flat-out whimsy that makes these games so phenomenally fun, and the franchise so unprecedentedly successful. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for other interesting tidbits during my next play-through.

Cheers.

 

 

How Gamers Won The Format War

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We all know who was victorious; the war was won almost a decade ago. There was a time, though, when two forces were vying for market share in what would become the next physical home media format. In the end, it all came down to movie studio support and the consumer electronic industry. What many people don’t know is how hard-fought the battle actually was, and the fact that a little black box developed by Sony Computer Entertainment dealt the most significant blow.

The seeds of the burgeoning format war began much earlier, but those seeds only began to take root in the summer of 2005. A discussion began around this time to develop a unified format, and the format war began in earnest when HD-DVD approached the BDA (the Blu-ray Disc Association) to combine efforts in developing these new technologies. When Toshiba and the HD-DVD camp insisted on too many changes to the format developed by the BDA, nascent cooperation transformed overnight into outright competition.

Paramount and Warner – two studios who had initially expressed interest in HD-DVD – were the first major entities to frustrate the competing formats by abandoning exclusivity, opting rather to release titles in both formats. Netflix also chose ambivalence over risk, announcing intentions to make titles available in both formats. At this stage, Universal Studios was the only major studio that remained solely in the HD-DVD camp.

Both formats were showcased at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. HD-DVD appeared to have a significant time advantage, with an earlier release date by a two-month margin, but many tech-industry insiders lauded Blu-ray’s substantial capacity advantage. At the end of this run, there were a handful of malfunctions with both formats upon their initial release. HD-DVD hardware was recalled and Blu-ray titles presented atrocious film transfers and had significant audio playback issues. Replacements were ordered and film transfers had to be re-coded and discs replaced. These seem to be minor and forgivable missteps with first-gen products, but neither format gained significant foothold.

The true game changer? Gaming consoles.

In November 2006, Sony Computer Entertainment released the Playstation 3. Consumers balked at the $499 price-tag, the highest ever seen on a gaming console. They were also skeptical about the Playstation’s abilities as a Blu-ray player. Keep in mind that playing movies on a gaming console was a new and foreign concept. Playstation’s Blu-ray player ultimately proved to be the most affordable at that time, and out-performed other hardware options. The X-Box 360 – Microsoft’s competing console – required a $199 add-on to achieve what the Playstation had accomplished at the time of its release. The Playstation 3 outsold Microsoft’s add-on five-to-one. The impact of the Playstation 3 influenced the format wars magnificently.

During the lead-up to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2008, the two formats still appeared to be somewhat evenly matched, but many rumors abounded that major studios were preparing to drop the HD-DVD format. Just before the show, Warner dropped HD-DVD. Toshiba did not fire back in defense of their flagging product, but instead canceled their showcase altogether. After the Consumer Electronics Show Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart, all within a week of one another, also dropped HD-DVD.

The Playstation 3 and its owners are responsible for Blu-ray’s victory. Playstation 3 owners were buying Blu-ray movies. Their purchases accounted for a small fraction of home movie purchases, but it was enough to convince major movie studios that the Blu-ray format had the greatest potential. Additionally, the BDA was willing to offer anti-piracy features like BD+ and region coding, industry-protecting features that were left unaddressed by Toshiba. The intent of BD+ was written specifically to prevent unauthorized copies of Blu-ray discs and the playback of Blu-ray media on unauthorized devices. This technology, even today, has proved to stem the tide of pirated high-definition media compared to older formats like DVD.

Certainly, the competition between red (HD-DVD) and blue (Blu-ray) motivated improvements on the winning format. Many pieces of hardware, and a variety of major movie studios, preferred to remain purple during the competition, but one would inevitably win-out. Toshiba mounted a noteworthy effort, and forced the BDA to focus on transfer quality and authoring, intellectual property protections, and price reduction on hardware. Gamers and home-video film geeks responded to the BDA’s improvements and adopted the Blu-ray format, eventually closing the chapter on the debate between HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

Never underestimate the power of gamers. The video game industry has surmounted Hollywood in earned revenue, and the interactivity of game-based story-telling is catching the attention of a larger and larger number of consumers. This gaming industry, at this particular point in time, isn’t just ahead of the curve. It is the curve.