After Fallout 2’s abysmal returns things at Interplay would have to be shaken up once again for better or worse. The first to go would be the founder of Interplay itself Brian Fargo. After enduring loss after loss do to his leadership Interplay was forced to broker a deal with Paris-based game company Titus Software. Agreeing to invest millions of dollars in the company, Titus had saved Interplay from what would seem to be their deathbed; that is if Interplay wouldn’t undo this new found funding on their own terms.
While this debacle was going on, Interplay decided to shelve Fallout’s famed developer, Black Isle Studios, in favor of a newer studio called Micro Forte. Having little experience in the gaming industry at the time, Interplay still threw one of their most famed properties onto this fledgling studio. But the game they would craft would be nothing like the predecessors before it. In fact it would embrace a part of the series that sometimes fell to the wayside. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, releasing in March of 2001, was nothing like the Fallout’s before it in any shape or form. Gone was the series iconic humor and self-referential attitude and in its place was a stereotypical strategy rpg. Still using the trappings of the original gameplay systems put in place it seemed like all would be the same once again but for Micro Forte they wouldn’t make that the case. Instead of California it would take place in the Midwest and instead of following a classic Vault Dweller you would control a new Brotherhood of Steel Initiate and the squad he is in.
The world map and towns that replaced it were gone leaving the colorful inhabitants of the past behind for good and in their place were Brotherhood of Steel bunkers that only offered up some trading and gambling for players to enjoy. There would be less of a focus on the storytelling that had made the series memorable and more of a focus on the combat. Players would receive missions from the bunkers and would shove out for a selected area with their team. Unlike the companions of the past these new party members offered up less of the personality then those memorable characters used to. Once players have chosen their teammates they are ushered into a cordoned off section of the world and told to kill and loot everything in it. And here is where one of the most radical changes comes into play. While previous games had used a real-time strategy system, Tactics took a different approach. Comprising of three modes of Continuous Turn-Based, Individual Turn-Based, and Squad Turn-Based combat, each would allow the player to customize the game to their play style. Prefer the turn based system of old? Use the Individual Turn-Based system. Want to play like a standard strategy rpg? Then STB is your best bet. It was an all new way to play Fallout and it would divide much of the fandom. Some would even say that it doesn’t even belong in the Fallout mythos. And while critics praised it somewhat, just like before the game flopped financially once again. And they were actually secretly praying for its success.
Many sequels to Fallout Tactics were actually in the works before and after the games release. The most obvious, of course, was Fallout Tactics 2. The sequel would take players to a Florida that had been overridden by a mutated Garden of Eden Recreation to rid the state of the infestation. In some ways it could have been a throwback to Fountain of Dreams and the property EA had taken from them but poor sales of Tactics meant that this sequel would never see the light of day past the conceptual phase. In tandem with this another project was in the works that would be developed for consoles instead of the series beloved PC. Fallout Extreme would have been a very different game in its own right. Following “The Cause”, the player would travel through the northwestern United States and even into China to do battle with the Brotherhood of Steel. It would be developed for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 by Interplay’s 14 Degrees East division and would be another attempt to rekindle the magic of the Fallout series that would, unfortunately, never see past its own developmental phase. Before all this, one final, notable cancelled project was a Fallout game exclusive to the original PlayStation. It would be a top down shooter developed by Interplay itself but as with the rest who came after it, this effort was turned down once again. In the background of all of this, Interplay had even tried to bring a Fallout film to market with their new Interplay Films division. But alas even after having the full screenplay treatment, the division’s budget was entirely taken away, leaving yet another concept dead in the water.
It seemed Interplay was running out of ideas and losing ground fast. If something couldn’t be done then the company would perish. Seeing this, Titus Interactive decided to let Brian Fargo go once and for all and take over the company for good. Helming his own company for nearly two decades, Fargo had to finally abandon ship for his own efforts elsewhere. In his place Titus would put Herve Caen and his changes to the company would run deep and change its very foundation forever. As if performing his own surgery, Caen extracted much of what had made the company great. Some of these unpopular decisions would involve the selling of Shiny Entertainment, creators of the classic Earthworm Jim series, along with several other game properties along with BlueSky Software, a company that had already been on the verge of collapse. But the stroke that truly broke the camels back was Black Isle. After years of critical acclaim with no financial revenue to back it up, Herve Caen truly felt that the dedicated team was not worth the trouble. On December 8, 2003, Interplay would lay off the entire Black Isle Studios staff, leaving the studio a shell of its former self and leaving the Fallout franchise decimated creatively.
But unbeknownst to the world at large, the team was on the verge of a huge success, a sequel that was nearly completed to fruition. Codenamed Van Buren, Fallout 3 was gone to be even more grandiose then Black Isle’s previous entries. Disconnected from the original storyline of Fallout’s 1 and 2, it would incorporate multiple factions vying for power including an even more powerful New California Republic and the militaristic Caesar’s legion and involve you as a prisoner in between them and a rogue scientist trying to nuke the world all over again. The gameplay would involve a unique dual combat system, allowing players to choose between either real-time or turn based combat on the fly. And all the while the story would contain the same wit and humor the series had grown to be known for. Best of all Fallout 3 would finally enter the third dimension, changing the look of the game forever. But the world would never see any of this come to fruition.
Even with the original team of the franchise gone, Interplay still tried to squeeze out more from the franchise till the very last drop. And that last drop was very lackluster indeed. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, a vast departure from the other Brotherhood of Steel title, looked and played like no game before it. A top down beat ‘em up for consoles; this entry was different in ways no fan of the series could appreciate. Lazy writing, terrible graphics, and even worse gameplay mechanics it was more less a game with the Fallout logo slapped onto it forcefully with no regard for quality. Just like the sequel that was made without the original teams go ahead, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel was just another Fountain of Dreams. In an ironic twist of fate, Interplay had become their own worst enemy. Turning the Fallout franchise into what had become of Wasteland. Jokingly Interplay thought this entry would do well and had a sequel lined up for it. This, of course, never materialized.
Now with financials woes along with critical ones, Interplay was in rather dire straits. Titus itself had been in a similar financial situation to Interplay and, after some time, had to close their side of the business in 2004. Now without anyone over their heads, Interplay continued to fall deeper and deeper into the abyss. The company was evicted from their own workplace and had to work elsewhere. At times Interplay couldn’t even pay their own employees and many left because of this. After eventually finding a new office, they licensed the rights to create Fallout 3 to a different studio. This one would have years of experience behind their backs to create another masterpiece. Their name? Bethesda Soft works. But even still this wasn’t enough to save them from their own demise. Faced with bankruptcy once again, Interplay was sent to court and this time their would be no escape from the inevitable. Like a cornered animal, Interplay would do anything to stay alive, even if that meant selling their baby. Altering their licensing agreement with Bethesda, the company sold the entire Fallout IP for $5.75 million dollars, saving their own hides from extinction. Fallout was in new hands now, for some for the better and for others the worse. Could a new company with years of experience under their belts and a pedigree for quality fantasy titles be able to craft a dark, dystopian future? Or was there just no saving this dying franchise? Only time could tell.