If I had to pick my favourite alternate history universe to get lost in, it’d have to be Fallout. Sure, the wastelands of America are pretty dangerous and teeming with hungry predators (both animal and human), but in no other alternate history do I really get to let my inner homicidal maniac loose and just murder everything as far as the eye can see.
But there’s more to Fallout than just the option of stabbing everyone you meet. There are also Vaults, where often the stabbing has already taken place. This leaves the player with the delicious mystery of figuring out what crazy experiments were being performed to the unsuspecting civilians trapped inside.
If you’re not familiar with the Fallout universe, a brief explanation is in order. Everyone knew the nuclear apocalypse was fast approaching, so a company stepped forward that specialized in constructing nuclear fallout shelters. Vault-Tec constructed 122 Vaults all across the country with the publicly disclosed intent of preventing human extinction when the bombs fell.
The guys in charge of Vault-Tec must’ve all been mad scientists, since nearly every single Vault was also a deranged human experiment. Some were just to see what would happen if you were to draw a line down the middle and say one side was blue and the other was red. Others were governed in such a way that all disputes were settled by chance. All were insane ways of messing with people just to see what would happen - usually with deadly consequences.
Vault-Tec's forecasts must've been a little off; the world ended ahead of schedule, and Vault-Tech was destroyed along with everything not inside a Vault, so nobody was around to actually observe the experiments. Even without Vault-Tec watching the Vaults all operated according to their last directive, including Vault 101, where nobody ever enters, and nobody ever leaves.
Here are a few things you might not have known about everybody’s favourite Vault. Also, massive spoilers ahead if you haven't played Fallout 3. Fair warning.
15 One Of The Few Remaining Vaults In Working Order
While wandering the wastes, if you come across a Vault with living, breathing people inside then you’ve found a very rare thing indeed. Of the 122 Vaults created in the entire Fallout universe, there are exactly nine Vaults that are still operational (101, 118, 112, 81, 21, 13, 0, 81, and 8 in case you were wondering). Two of those - Vault 101 and Vault 112 - are in the capital wasteland.
To give you a sense of how lucky this makes the Vault 101 denizens, let's go over a few of the more… interesting fates of some of the Vaults. Vault 11 had a system in place where every year one person was selected as a sacrificial lamb, which naturally left the Vault empty pretty fast. There was the cloning-technology-equipped Vault 108, eventually resulting in an entire Vault filled with genetically flawed (and dangerously insane) clones all named Gary. Or how about Vault 69, with 999 women and one man as occupants?
I know that last one may sound great (at least, to certain men) but inbreeding is a terrible thing, as we’ll learn later.
14 Random Deathclaw Spawns
Fallout 3 had a random encounter system built in which would result in, well, random encounter whenever somebody fast traveled. Some of these encounters were tiny quests, some were just neat little chance meetings with different residents of Capital Wasteland, and sometimes these encounters would result in combat to keep you on your toes.
On rare occasion, those random encounters would be with a Deathclaw. If you’re not familiar with the Fallout universe, a Deathclaw is basically the mass of a freight train, coupled with the temperament of an angry badger, the teeth and claws of a velociraptor, and the face and horns of Satan himself. It will kill you in one swipe of its claws, and it’s especially deadly to low-level players that don’t have any weapon even remotely capable of defeating it.
After one random Deathclaw death, players learned to quicksave before every fast travel.
13 It’s Near The Real-World Suburb Tysons Corner
One of the neat things about alternate universe games is that a lot of them can be traced to real world locations. In Vault 101’s case, you can find it just East of Tysons Corner in Farifax County, Virginia.
In the real world, Tysons Corner is a moderately affluent edge city, filled with medium office towers and shopping malls. Unlike bed towns, where people leave to the city to go to work and come home to go to bed, edge cities are smaller metropolises that pop up where people go to work, and then go to the larger city to go to bed (in this case Washington DC right next to it).
Sadly, the office buildings and sprawling malls were likely of little protection when the bombs fell, and all of Tysons Corner was reduced to rubble with all souls lost. That is, except for the ones lucky enough to be in Vault 101.
12 Vault 101’s Experiment
As you may remember, every Vault has a funny little experiment happening inside, many of which fall somewhere between hilarious and disturbing. Vault 101 was relatively simple: it would close when the bombs fell, and never open again.
The Vault was given enough supplies and equipment to survive in isolation indefinitely. In order to keep the population stable inside, the Overseer would regularly pump in fake radio communications that told the outside was nothing but a radioactive deathtrap for all who ventured forth. This desire for isolation was strengthened by social pressures, such as the Vault mantra, “we are born in the Vault, we live in the Vault, and we die in the Vault,” which was taught to every child since birth.
There was, however, a more sinister experiment happening even as Vault 101’s population lived in fear of the outside world.
11 ...But It Was Actually To Test The Overseer!
Every Vault has an Overseer - basically, a guy in charge of everything to make sure the Vault doesn’t immediately descend into chaos (many would anyway, but it’s the thought that counts). Most of the Overseers were actually Vault-tec employees, and as such were given the low-down on the crazy experiments they’d planned to conduct on the unsuspecting populace.
Vault 101 was no exception, and the Overseer knew that the Vault was set to never open. But there was a catch: the Overseer actually had a working radio that could communicate with the outside world, as well as a secret passage that would let him out whenever he wanted.
Thus the actual, secret purpose of the Vault 101 experiment was to see what the Overseer would do when trying to keep a population in the dark while he himself knew the truth - that there was a world out there, trying to rise from the ashes of the Great War.
Cue the X-files music.
10 Inbreeding Is Bad, Mmmkay
A lot of you may have figured this one out already, but if there’s a small population in an isolated space with no new genetic material ever coming in, you’ll eventually have a problem with genetic diversity. That is, you’ll all become inbred.
The reason why inbreeding is bad has to do with a lot of complicated genetics that I don’t really have the space to go into, but I’ll give you the Coles Notes version. The more closely related your biological parents are, the more likely you are to receive bad, recessive genes resulting in birth defects. The longer the inbreeding goes on, the more likely those recessive genes get expressed.
Since Vault 101 doesn’t allow anyone in, the population inside will eventually succumb to genetic stagnation. This is something the Overseer knew, but kept the doors closed anyway. It was all part of that wacky Vault-Tec experiment to see how long the Overseer would keep the doors shut in the face of certain doom.
9 Well… One Person Enters
I may have lied a bit when I said nobody ever enters Vault 101. There was one exception over the century and a half the vault door remained closed - the player’s dad.
James (no last name given) comes to the Vault seeking refuge from the outside. Since, while it’s not a complete nuclear wasteland out there, it’s still plenty dangerous for a grown man, let alone one caring for an infant. He explains that he’s a trained physician, and the Overseer agrees to let him in since the Vault has a serious lack of medical expertise (which we’ll get to later). There is one condition: that he agrees to continue the charade that the outside world is a dangerous place and to make sure he only ever encourages people to stay inside for their own good.
James agrees, but only long enough for his kid to come of age. Once you turn 19, he’s out the door immediately to try and save the Capital Wasteland and bring fresh water to everyone. What a dad.
8 After He Leaves, The Robot Becomes Doctor
As I said before, the Vault had a serious lack of medical professionals, and as soon as the resident doctor leaves they had to resort to his old nurse: Andy.
Andy is a Mr. Handy Robot with a few quirks. Actually, let’s call them serious malfunctions. While the Vault was equipped with all the supplies necessary to keep them going, it wasn’t equipped with a strong tradition of passing down engineering know-how to their grandkids. People just didn’t know how to fix a complicated robot when he started to go haywire, and this resulted in some unfortunate mishaps.
How unfortunate? Well, at one point Beatrice goes to the clinic with a sprained toe. Andy suggests the only solution is to amputate the leg, and immediately sets about doing so - only he amputates the wrong leg. Now with both a sprained toe, a missing leg, and losing a lot of blood, Andy panics while Beatrice expires from exsanguination.
This is why we all need a well funded public healthcare system, people!
7 The Lone Wanderer Leaving Causes A Rebellion
The player character, known in the Fallout canon as The Lone Wanderer, leaves Vault 101 in search of his father and thus very publically breaks the taboo keeping any vault dweller from leaving. As soon as the rest of Vault 101 sees that it’s not a complete radioactive wasteland and they can go outside and see the sun for the first time in their lives, they naturally wanted to go take a look around.
Well, half of them did anyway - the younger half. The Overseer still had a lot of sway with the older population who wanted to keep the doors shut and everyone still inside. It all eventually came to a head when the Overseer’s group brought out the guns to keep the young’uns in line.
The Lone Wanderer can return to solve the rebellion by either successfully negotiating a truce, killing either the Overseer or the rebel leader, or just saying “to hell with it” and setting the Vault reactor to nuclear meltdown.
I usually went with that last option. It was better that way.
6 They Play Baseball… Somehow
Being cooped up in a stuffy underground bunker for your entire life can get pretty boring. To pass the time the Vault dwellers take part in the old American pastime of baseball.
How they go about playing baseball in a cramped and crowded Vault is not entirely clear. Even the largest room, the Atrium, is not particularly large, and furthermore, it has a roof. If someone were to hit the ball hard enough, it could careen through the Overseers window. And how would anyone draw a diamond in such an enclosed space? Home Runs are out of the question, and I can only assume the game is played as a series of gentle bunts.
I feel they may have more success with ultimate frisbee, or possibly mini golf.
5 They Hold A Bake-off Annually
Now here is something I can see a bunch of people stuck in a hole in the ground doing. With an underground greenhouse making all the ingredients they need, and stores of goods that will last centuries, I can envision this happening without terrible injuries or loss of life.
Every year Vault 101 holds an annual bake-off, where contestants enter to compete for “worthy” prizes. The judges are selected from elderly Vault 101 residents, and they will judge everyone’s entry according to select criteria. Some years only chocolate cakes compete, other years its cheesecake. In the year 2268, only bundt cakes are accepted, whatever those are.
Y’know, cake usually has a terrible amount of trans fats. If the inbreeding doesn’t get ‘em, the diabetes and heart failure surely will.
4 Certain Rooms On The Map Don’t Exist
Vaults are intentionally laid out with some pretty bizarre floor plans to both keep the population in line as well as make things interesting for the player whenever they venture inside one. Sometimes they’re so bizarre they actually don’t make any sense.
In Vault 101, a player that carefully reviews the floor plan can note something quite interesting. Any room with a closed door on the map doesn’t actually exist in the game. The cafeteria is a place that is visited in earlier episodes of the game, but after that, the room disappears. Furthermore, certain residences, such as the Mack Family apartment, seem to be completely cut off from the rest of the complex as their entrance leads to a hallway that likewise doesn’t exist.
This could all be part of the Vault experiment as well, or it could just be bad planning on the part of Vault-Tec. Either way, I question the architect’s vision for this Vault.
3 "Founder's Day"
Every year on October 23, Vault 101 celebrates Founder’s Day. The holiday as explained to Vault residents is a day where they celebrate the founding of Vault 101 by the original Overseer who died many years ago.
October 23 wasn’t the Overseer’s birthday though. October 23, 2077, was actually the day the world ended.
On that day, each nuclear capable nation on Earth launched nuclear missiles at one another. The exchange lasted for 2 hours according to survivor accounts (who usually turn out to be ghouls), and the devastation afterward was near total. The nuclear holocaust that followed would see human civilization crumble to dust and memory.
But hey, gotta celebrate something. Might as well be the end of the world.
2 The Jumpsuit Is In Fallout 4
Despite the fact that Vault 101 is in Washington and Fallout 4 takes place entirely in Boston, you can get the Vault 101 jumpsuit there too! The costume is hidden in the game files of Fallout 4, and enterprising individuals can actually unlock the suit through a series of console commands. The item code is 0022da6a.
There’s a lot of things that were cut from Fallout 4 that you can still find in the game files, such as the Chinese Assault Rifle, the Harpoon Gun, and the Nuke Cannon. Some of these were added in future DLC, but many remain hidden away, just waiting for an industrious modder to bring them out again.
1 Callouts To The Original Fallout
As a long and illustrious franchise, it’s only natural that Fallout includes a few easter eggs for fans of the series. There are many more to be found throughout the game, but a few can be found inside Vault 101.
In the cafeteria bulletin board right above the jukebox, there’s a small note advertising a bingo night. In the note is a ball with the number 13, and the phrase, “First prize being a week’s supply of water rations!” This is a callback to the original Fallout where the Vault Dweller has to venture from Vault 13 in order to repair their broken water filtration system. Also in the cafeteria scene, you can hear Butch asking his friend why anyone would want to be called a “Vault Dweller” when talking about possible names for his gang, a reference to the canon name for the first Fallout protagonist.
Looking back, it’s kinda funny how the cutscenes from the original Fallout now look like regular gameplay footage from Fallout 4. As the song says, the times they are a changin.'