How psychological experiments influenced the design of Vault 11 in Fallout: New Vegas

Former Obsidian Entertainment designer Eric Fenstermaker discusses how Vault 11 was designed in Fallout: New Vegas.
"With Vault 11 I really had carte blanche when it came to narrative choices. As long as I got the tone right, it was going to feel like it belonged."

- Eric Fenstermaker on designing Vault 11 for Fallout: New Vegas. 

The infamous vaults featured in the Fallout series are known for housing social experiments designed by Vault-Tec to test the human condition under various circumstances.

Every individual vault harbors a different narrative experience, so what makes Vault 11 continue to stand out in Fallout: New Vegas, eight years after launch? 

In an interview with Eurogamer, former level designer at Obsidian Entertainment Eric Fenstermaker explains his design philosophy when it came to figuring out how he wanted players to piece together the mystery of Vault 11.

With only a vague description to guide him, Fenstermaker was essentially free to dictate all of the choices behind how Vault 11 would eventually come to be.

"All I had to go on was the basic description Josh gave me, which was that the story was about a small town where every year they choose a person at random and stone them to death," He explains. "So I started thinking about what an annual execution would look like as a social experiment."

With a loose description to work with, Fenstermaker refined the narrative beats. "Everything came out of trying to envision what a community might do if they were forced to murder one of their own every year," He says. 

"What kind of system would they settle on? It occurred to me that, while random selection would seem to be the fairest approach, it probably wouldn't have sat well with people." 

"A democratic framework would probably be the path of least resistance in that regard - it sounds fair on its face, it's an American ideal - especially for that generation, it minimizes individual guilt over the decision, and it allows for a rationale," he adds.

"A democratic choice, you just have to not be the most hated person in the vault that year. That is something you could see an entire community getting behind, and it's also of course easily corrupted and manipulated."

After deciding on reverse election as the foundation of the story, it came time to figure out how to actually design the level. Fenstermaker admits to spending most of his time trying to work out the plot and how the level would reflect it. 

Be sure to check out the entire interview over at Eurogamer, which also features a great break down of what makes Vault 11 so memorable. 

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