Hey, fellas. Calvin here. As we wrap up our first season of The Spoony Bard’s Aural Theatre, we are setting the stage for the followup season, which will be based on the retro PC game Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game, a turn-based “isometric-view” post-apocalyptic RPG developed by Interplay Productions in 1997.
RPG Rabbit adapted the script for Final Fantasy IV (in fact, she is still writing it, as that season is not yet finished) while I set out to work on one for Fallout. She is more familiar with FFIV than I, and since that season was just the two of us, it made sense that she should also narrate the show while I voiced the protagonist, who is male. Fallout’s protagonist does not have a set gender, and canonically it doesn’t matter, but since one can be female in it, it was decided early on that I would narrate and she would play the lead.
By the end of the first Final Fantasy IV episode, we realized that for future projects we need to have more people voice the characters than just us. For Final Fantasy IV, we could probably manage with just one other male and female voice actor, since there are only a handful of people in the game, and only about ten characters who have more than a handful of lines. By contrast, when it comes to dialogue dispersion, Fallout is the opposite; the main character has some 900 lines, and there are another two thousand lines dispersed between 500 other characters. Besides the Narrator, the next most prolific speaker in the game has 54 lines.
Another difference between these two games is that FFIV is a very authored game; the game is generally on a linear path that guides you to cinematic events and places in which the camaraderie of the protagonists become the focus of that scene. When it comes to events that must be experienced in order to progress the game, Fallout has maybe three or four. The bulk of Fallout is in its nonlinear approach to storytelling; any two people who play FFIV will have almost identical experiences, but no two Fallout games are going to be alike. There are a ton of options when it comes to offensive vs. defensive actions, stealth vs. rampaging, melee weapons vs. ranged weapons, good karma vs. bad karma, diplomacy vs. violence.
When I first considered one day doing a Fallout production, this was the first hurdle I felt needed to be overcome. It would be like trying to tell the story of an adventure through an MMORPG; everybody’s experience is going to be different,, and who’s to say which one is “correct.” The idea behind the Spoony Bard’s Aural Theatre is to adapt the game in such a way that it recreates a game-playing and storytelling experience through a different medium, but Fallout is too open-ended to sate everyone’s appetite for a nostalgic bull’s-eye. Yet, I didn’t want to just play it my way and tell you about it; this isn’t a Let’s Play. Fortunately, there were some canonical clues left behind via references in dialogue in later games, certain events that had to have happened in order for later games to play out how they do, and, perhaps most helpful, the manuals that came with Fallout and Fallout 2.
Fallout 1’s manual, the “Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide” contains a wonderful narrative backdrop for the main character. Though it doesn’t appear in-game, it can be assumed that this guide is carried with the Vault Dweller, or at least downloaded into the Pip-Boy. Using this manual, we can canonically establish attitudes and backdrops for the main character and some other important figures. Fallout 2’s manual, the “Vault-Tec Lab Journal” includes memoirs left behind by the protagonist from Fallout 1. There are certain events that are mentioned in these memoirs, and since they become canon, it gives us more guidance on how to narrate an otherwise entirely open-ended game.
As for the protagonist, I have utilized the pre-made characters that nobody ever picks when actually playing Fallout as canonical options for the Spoony Bard’s Aural Theatre. There are three pre-made characters, two male and one female. Since RPG Rabbit is voicing the main character, there was only one option: Natalia Dubrovsky.
She specializes in pick-pocketing and unarmed combat, a combination which makes for a very unique experience in Fallout. I’ve played through Fallout a number of times in the past, but I never tried going the unarmed route.
So, using the Fallout manuals, and relying heavily on the wonderful Fallout Wiki, I am able to construct a plausible path that adheres to canon. That isn’t to say these are the “correct” choices to make; (after all, one of the game’s greatest selling points is its nonlinear gameplay) they are just the choices that most coincide with established canon from the events and people discussed in the sequels and other resources. The Vault Dweller’s memoirs also include the circumstances of two companions who die, so I couldn’t keep them alive all the way to the end; and on the other hand, I also had to keep them alive when they were pretty much just getting in the way. Fallout 1’s companions don’t level up, so after a while they’re effective in combat as just a distraction. A very easily killed distraction.
One of the first rules we established in The Spoony Bard’s Aural Theatre was that we would not “assume” anything that isn’t explicitly conveyed. You never hear the narrator say, “He wants to do this…” or “He felt bad” or anything else that isn’t clearly contextual. We as the audience can assume, but on this podcast, we are not omniscient narrators. We are only adapting a script. Final Fantasy IV manages to convey a lot of unspoken information through simple two-frame animations, but Fallout doesn’t really have provide animation for their characters. Even the protagonist looks just like a specific kind of civilian the player can encounter. Because of this, it’s that much more important for the voice actor(s) to help articulate the emotional situation of the character while not veering from the dialogue taken from the game.
Speaking of which, there is a lot of dialogue in the game. Over 3,750 lines of dialogue will be uttered in what I estimate will be an eleven-episode season. Over 1,000 are just the narrator, and the protagonist (Natalia) has about 900. The entire cast of characters amounts to more than 300, though most only utter a single phrase and may not even have any dialogue options. Also, a lot of spoken lines are silly battle banter, like this:
The overall cast of characters will be divided into three tiers: Main Characters, which includes Natalia, the narrator, and her companions. Then are Notable Characters, which include basically anyone with a name and more than a single line of dialogue. The third tier is Simple Characters, mostly just single-use spawned bad guys or civilians. I would encourage anyone wanting to do voice work for a notable or main character to also lend us a few lines for simple dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue, there is probably a lot of dialogue I missed in the game. I tried to play the game as thoroughly as possible while giving context to the Vault Dweller’s motivation. As an example, there is a very good reason to return to Shady Sands later on in the game, but the protagonist doesn’t know what’s going on, so it would seem reaching to have her arbitrarily wander the Wasteland for days and days so she can check up on things. Another issue I encountered is that there is so much dialogue that the player will miss their first time playing through. Many characters in the game interact with you in different ways, depending on your actions. One of my favorite characters in the game is Set, a ghoul with a very unique kind of dialogue.
He speaks in this sort of dialect that sounds like post-nuclear beat poetry. I ran into a problem in which I wanted to engage Set in a long back-and-forth of dialogue, but because of events that happened before I met him in-game, he would only give me a few lines and then attack me if I said something wrong. Here’s where I took some artistic license that marginally breaks the rule of authenticity in the game; Set’s dialogue is amazing, and I absolutely wanted it in the podcast, so I wrote his scene while using his dialogue file as a guide to other conversations he could have had with the protagonist. None of this is contrary to canon, nor does he say anything that goes against whatever events had happened (there were a few specific examples, like Set mentioning things that either hadn’t happened yet or could not happen because of previous actions. These lines of dialogue were not edited, but simply omitted.) I think some people might notice that Set talks about some things that would only have been prompted if the protagonist was evil, or had first killed the mutants in the area, or had destroyed a water pump. Does this go against the rule of providing no more data than is on-screen? I think it toes the line; the dialogue is there, and I didn’t make any of it up, but I did cheat a little to get him to say it.
By the way, rummaging through the dialogue files on the Fallout Wiki is an endeavor. It can be very difficult to determine who is talking and if I cannot duplicate the conversation in-game for whatever reason (like having a poor reputation or having killed the wrong guy or what have you) this is all I have to go on.
In an effort to retain as much authenticity as I could, many of the descriptions come directly from the game itself. For instance, here are messages that appear in the Pip-Boy:
This is what we get instead of the sprite nuances of Final Fantasy IV. With a few replacement pronouns and changing this from second-person to third-person, many of the narrative descriptions in the podcast use this exact text. I tried to use these descriptions any time they appeared. Also, you must have noticed how RPG Rabbit weaves descriptive actions throughout dialogue in FFIV. That’s because the characters in that game are always doing something. They’re hopping around, looking up and down, pouting, falling down. Fallout’s characters remain stationary in almost every case. Fortunately, there are a few descriptors interjected into dialogue that helps a lot in keeping the episode from falling into a sterile slog.
Playing through Fallout again was a blast and I really recommend it to anyone who is a fan of turn-based RPGs, a non-fantasy setting, or the Fallout setting in general. It plays surprisingly well given its age. In order to put together the script, I took thousands of screenshots (more than 4,000) and used them as a kind of storyboard to stitch together a narrative. It’s a very different approach to how RPG Rabbit has worked on the FFIV script; she plays the game with her laptop next to her and writes down everything she can as it happens.
Anyway, on to some stuff regarding how we’re going to produce this. As I stated before, it has become necessary for us to get more people on board. I have a rather limited range and have stretched it to the limit with characters from FFIV, and RPG Rabbit can only do so much herself. We need more actors, many more. We cannot offer you anything more than the opportunity to be part of this project. You need only a decent microphone — it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. RPG Rabbit and I use a Yeti mic that cost less than a hundred dollars. You may be able to do well with a cheaper one, but something more advanced than an Xbox Call of Duty headset needs to be utilized.
There’s a small piece of conflict I am seeing with some of the characters in Fallout: many of them are already voiced! (And by celebrities.) Tony Shalloub, Tony Jay, Richard Dean Anderson, and Michael Dorn all lend their voice to this game, and they do a fantastic job, and I don’t want to replace them. The only problem I’m seeing is that there are certain segments in which they “speak,” but via text only. I can’t very well call up Warf and ask him to record a few extra lines for our silly podcast. So ultimately the decision will have to be made whether to record all their lines and use our own actors, or to get rid of their non-voiced dialogue, or perhaps someone can do a really good impression of one of them and we can flub it. Well, we’ll see when we come to that.
FFIV is being released as we make it; we finish the episode usually a few hours before it goes online. It takes a shocking, SHOCKING amount of time to make a 45 minute episode. I wish to have all the lines recorded for Fallout before we start releasing episodes; I want to be able to spend two weeks editing an episode without the stress of also recording. So, there will likely be a kind of gap between FFIV and Fallout, but the quicker we get some people on the project, the sooner we can begin. And I’m really excited; I just finished playing the game and I love the setting and the sound and the story and the amazing ambient “music” by Mark Morgan. I am eager to re-experience this in the form of a podcast serial.