Skip to main content

Fallout co-creator reveals the true purpose of the vaults

Five star plan.

Image credit: Bethesda

Tim Cain, one of the creators of the Fallout series, has "set the record straight" on the true, original purpose of the series' famous vaults.

In a video posted to his YouTube channel, embedded below, Cain revealed the idea behind the vaults and their various dastardly experiments was to help scientists figure out how humans might survive interstellar travel - an idea he conveived after Fallout 1 came out in 1997.

Watch on YouTube

Deciding there would be "no earth to come back to" in the event of a nuclear war, the head of the Enclave and the US government hatched a plan to build a starship that would take "our best and brightest" to a distant solar system in the hope of colonising a suitable planet.

Given the distance and time involved in such an endeavour, the starship would have to be multi-generational. But humanity had no idea how to keep humans alive during a voyage that would take hundreds of years, so Vault-Tec thought it could use the vaults to figure out the technology that would get the job done.

Some of Fallout's infamous vaults start to make more sense in the context of this plan. "We're going to have to grow food because the crew will have to be awake and active," Cain explained.

"That's where the multi-generation comes in, so they're going to have to have food. We're gonna have to figure out how to grow plants really well in an enclosed environment.

"We also need water for them. We're gonna have to make sure that water circulates well and can get purified.

"We're also going to have to figure out how to store the crew. You know, we're gonna have to have cryo chambers and see if we pull them out every few years, if there's any freezer burn going on in there."

The making of Fallout 1 & 2: Tales from the early days of Black Isle Studios.Watch on YouTube

Fallout's vaults, then, were designed to figure out how to solve these sorts of problems for a starship.

"... every vault was in some sense a test even if they were [a control vault]," Cain explained.

"I always thought the vault that made Vault City in Fallout 2 was a control vault: it was designed to do everything right. It opened after 10 years, everybody came out, they had a working Garden of Eden Creation Kit and everything worked."

Even Vault 13, the starting point of the first Fallout game, makes sense in this context, despite the fact Cain came up with this idea after finishing Fallout 1.

Cain again: "Vault 13 where the player was originally in Fallout wasn't designed to work. They wanted to see how long one of these vaults would last and so the overseer - the generations of overseers in there - were told to keep people in, and when they had something malfunction, they were originally told, 'try to figure out how to fix it, we don't want anyone leaving.'

"And when they did have someone leave, well, no-one ever came back. Obviously a few people went out before the player. When the player finally went out, he was told, 'Okay, he can't stay when he comes back,' so that kind of explains retroactively all the stuff we'd already established."

Cain said the purpose of the vaults that players are initially led to believe in-game - that they were designed to save a portion of the American population who would then go back out into a radioactive dead zone to repopulate the earth, "doesn't make any sense".

But making the vaults technological experimental beds with a purpose towards making a multi-generational starship that would take a fraction of the population off-world in the event of a nuclear war "made sense".

"That's what we wrote down," Cain said. "I can't speak to how they've been designed and developed since then, but I never view them through the lens of, 'Look at these wacky experiments.' Each one I was, like, 'Yeah I can see how that would help make a starship.'

"You can think of the Enclave as evil or wacky or whatever you want, but there was originally a purpose for all of this stuff."

So there you have it. We all thought the vaults were simply about running awful experiments on their inhabitants, but it turns out there was another, higher purpose.

Of course, this is the original idea behind Fallout's vaults and not necessarily official lore Bethesda, current custodian of the Fallout series, carried forward when it picked up the baton from Interplay and released Fallout 3. Perhaps when Fallout 5 eventually comes out, we'll find out.

Read this next