Announced (and released) last month at E3, Fallout Shelter is a deceptively cute mobile game that’s helping fans of the retro-futuristic, post-apocalyptic series keep their cool until Fallout 4 comes out later this year. Fallout Shelter puts players in the role of Overseer for a vault of their choice, but unlike the Vault-Tec vaults established in Fallout lore, they’ll be starting almost completely from scratch and building rooms and facilities as they go. That makes for a pretty entertaining way to pass time on the bus or at the dentist’s office, but it doesn’t exactly make for the best social experiments—and that’s kind of Vault-Tec’s whole deal. Their experiments were intended to provide insight into human behavior that would be beneficial to rebuilding society, though more than a couple were just downright mean.
We may not be able to fully reproduce the authentic Vault-Tec vault experience in Fallout Shelter, but it does provide a good opportunity to look back on some of the best vaults in the series to date. Okay, so maybe “best” isn’t the right word, but these are at least among the most interesting.
Precious little is actually known about these twin experiments because they’ve only ever been mentioned in passing. That’s a shame, because the premise is absolute gold. In Vault 55, residents were deprived of entertainment tapes. Presumably they still had the books, magazines and other assorted items that players often discover scattered throughout a vault, so that alone doesn’t seem too bad. But meanwhile over in Vault 56, all entertainment tapes had been removed with the exception of those featuring a particularly annoying comedian. Imagine a Blu-ray collection consisting of nothing but the collected works of Ray Romano and a communal entertainment space and you might understand why the tape-free Vault 55 was expected to fare much better.
In any list of Fallout vaults (and between now and November there will be plenty) you’ll probably hear about Vaults 68 and 69. In the former there was only one woman present out of 1000 vault subjects, while in the latter there was only one man. Vastly more interesting than both of these cases is Vault 43, which was populated with 20 men, 10 women, and a panther. Perhaps this was a Vault-Tec experiment to determine if panthers could be properly integrated into small communities, but more likely than not it was just another case of Vault-Tec directors being total jerks.
Some of the most interesting vault experiments are also some of the most mundane. Vault 12, for example, would have been an ideal shelter to end up in if not for one little detail: The door was intended not to seal correctly when closed, allowing radiation to seep in and gradually turn the occupants into ghouls. In most games that would probably be the end of it—bust in, shoot the place up, loot it and leave—but Fallout’s mutants and ghouls are worlds away from the zombie-like creatures you might expect. The folks who found themselves in Vault 12 went on to found their own cities and communities on the surface. Some of them worked out better than others, but that’s life in a nuclear wasteland for you.
This vault is home to “Tranquility Lane,” a virtual world just as unnervingly idyllic as you would expect coming from the bizarre extrapolation of mid-century American culture that these games are based in. The best thing about dropping in on Vault 112 is that the player gets to take Tranquility Lane for a spin themselves, where they can either try to cause as much friction and conflict in the sepia-toned simulation as possible, or just pull the plug and kill everyone. How do the player character and—spoilers—their father manage to survive that when no one else does? ... Don’t worry about it.
Residents of Vault 11 were required to regularly sacrifice one of their own (the vault’s overseer) for the continued survival of the others. In most other vaults the overseers were either in on the experiments or were at least in a position of comfort relative to everyone else. In Vault 11 they instead enjoyed a blissfully short window of privilege before being marched down a hallway to watch a cheerful little filmstrip before meeting their end. The thing is, the residents of Vault 11 weren’t actually required to sacrifice anyone, but by the time they figured that out a power struggle had erupted over the right to select sacrifices at random rather than by nomination. In the end there were only five survivors left to be praised for their selfless refusal to select the next victim, and they took the news about as well as you’d expect.
This particular vault was right at home in downtown Las Vegas. Those who were admitted to it were all compulsive gamblers, and the vault was run in such a way that every disagreement had to be settled through a game of chance. The majority of the vault experiments that are outlined in the series’ lore at this point didn’t end terribly well for those involved, but all said things went pretty darn good for the folks in Vault 21. Eventually the vault itself was converted to a hotel and tourist hotspot—at least as much as there can be tourist hotspots in the irradiated ruins of society.
Vault 29, a shelter populated exclusively with children, might have gone a little bit Lord of the Flies if not for the fact that there was someone guiding and raising its inhabitants. By someone I mean robots. Children, raised by robots, who emerged to form a matriarchal society based on the foundations laid by a brain in a tank hooked up to a computer that had been taking care of them from afar. Seriously, that’s the most unembellished description of Vault 29 possible.
The subject of a Penny Arcade promotion for Fallout 3, where one man was sealed in a vault alone with a large box full of puppets. Even this experiment, playful as it might seem, resulted in more than a few casualties. Fan theory: The number 77 was chosen because it looks a bit like two sock puppets facing the same direction. Like if you squint a bit. See it?
Home of Gary. And Gary. And Gary. And of course Gaaary.
60 watts. According to the internet, that’s the wattage sweet spot for your standard household incandescent lightbulb. Take a peek in the nearest lamp and unless you’re dealing with fancy compact fluorescents then there’s a good change you’ll find a 60 watt bulb in there. In Vault 42, there were no lightbulbs greater than 40 watts.
Just in case you needed to be reminded that Vault-Tec is run by monsters.
Janine Hawkins is a games writer based in sunny Canada. You can find her written and video work on HealerArcherMage.com or follow her on Twitter @bleatingheart.