The games are set in the future right? Circa 2077. But the terminals look like the computers back in the 1950's. When we actually had to type commands to get things done. Why is this? Im assuming it has something to do with the atom?

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    When I first started playing (I started with Fallout 3), I thought this was indicative of what would have happened had the Cold War actually become a nuclear conflict. After awhile I learned it was actually due to the explanation that Nzall gives below. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:22
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    Fallout 3 takes place in 2277 and Fallout 4 takes place in 2287. The year 2077 is when the bombs dropped - just to clarify.
    – Timmy Jim
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:40
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    As an anecdote, all modern OSes I know of in real life still support typing commands to get things done; in fact, all servers I have worked with require terminal access, even when accessed locally. GUIs aren't always useful, depending on the computer's purpose.
    – JAB
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:48
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    Not only on servers, command-line is also often used on desktop Linux or macOS especially by developers. OP clearly isn't a command-line user. :)
    – Léo Lam
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 8:46
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    Actually, the CRT based terminals that you can type commands into didn't exist until the mid 1960's and didn't really become a thing until the 1970's. The terminals in the Fallout games are about the size and capability of terminals from the late 70's and early 80's.
    – user86571
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 4:57

4 Answers 4


The world of Fallout has had a Divergence from our world somewhere after WW2. Where we went on big in computers and invented the transistor in 1947 (an essential component for making small computers), the world of Fallout didn't invent it until 2067, instead focusing on things like nuclear power, laser rifles and giant death robots.

Note: I did not write the Fallout universe lore. There are obviously some inconsistencies and/or plotholes in the universe, but I'm just reporting the information I found on the wiki. What appeared to have happened is that they never got into the miniaturization drive we pushed for with computing, but they kept increasing the performance of the components.

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    robots without transistors? Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 12:06
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    yeah, how exactly could you have any form of advanced electronic devices w/o research into transistors? Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 12:42
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    @SargeBorsch Robots are guided by a computer program, but that doesn't have to be embedded within the bot itself (It could be huge but external: the bot itself could be merely a collection of hydraulics and motors). And, almost everything we do with digital computers could be done with analog or vacuum-tube computers, neither of which require transistors. They just require extra space, extra money, and extra quality control (redundant backup systems, etc.)
    – jpaugh
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 15:29
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    @SargeBorsch quite a few of them actually use real brains in lieu of a CPU. Also, while the transistor was developed 10 years before the apocalypse, the rest of technology did not stay in 1950's levels. Computers improved all of a sudden and the field now was not theoretical anymore.
    – Chieron
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 15:31
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    Well, don't logically think too hard about it though. The bottom line is they advanced Fusion Technology so much that it's everywhere; in cars, in guns, in clocks. Things were running TWO HUNDRED years after the bombs fell.
    – Nelson
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 16:33

Out of universe, Fallout is a "retrofuturistic" setting: the setting is based on the future as imagined at some point in the past (in this case the 1950s). The computers are just a small part of that.

Other common uses of this device include steampunk, so this 1950s future is sometimes referred to as "atompunk".


Possible speculation: higher-yield powerplants in vehicles and in the power grid from extreme nuclear utilization reduced the impetus for miniaturization that led to the computer age. If you look at very old electronics, vacuum tubes and all, and look at new electronics, you notice something very interesting. In general, older electronics use a lot more input power for the same output, and they are usually considerably heavier.

Weight is an issue mainly when you transport things - in gasoline powered cars, extra weight reduces fuel economy. If you're driving a nuclear-powered car however, the economy loss for heavy equipment is probably minimal.

As said, older systems tended to use more power. Again, not a problem if you're putting nuclear reactors everywhere. You can see this especially in older televisions and radios. No incentive to economize.

Lastly, one possibility is electromagnetic interference. See, when a small reactor goes boom, just like when any nuclear bomb goes off, there's significant EMP output, that can damage electrical equipment for miles around. Some older, tube-type (or "analog") equipment was more resistant to EMP spikes than modern, solid-state equipment. Since nuclear power was apparently in every household, maybe that was a concern? I know high-altitude EMP tests (Operation Fishbowl, of which Starfish Prime was the largest) concluded that a high altitude explosion of relatively small bombs could EMP thousands of miles of surface area.

Just some thoughts. The possibility we're overthinking it a bit exists. But I think some of these idea hold a teensy bit of water

  • If the idea that the computers were just more resistant were true, then how would you explain the state of the Institute? They, too, use the old-fashioned terminals, yet they make synthetic humans so lifelike that they can pass the Turing test with ease. They could likely very easily design more advanced computer hardware. Based on lore, though, the choice is purely aesthetic as a result of the divergence from our own world-line. (Maybe they broke the 1% barrier?)
    – Vemonus
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 13:44
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    lots of possibilities. you could argue that continuous scientific development since the great war has achieved most of the more modern advancements (most of the terminals you find in the game are pre-war). but you might argue that the synth construction proves they can make modern, extremely miniaturized computers, at least in very small batches. maybe the computer terminals themselves are just leftovers pressed into service. the institute not having the resources to start a mass production computer company?
    – WestonM
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:00
  • It wouldn't need to be mass production levels. They have teleportation technology; I think they could handle upgrading their computer hardware...
    – Vemonus
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:02
  • yeah, there's a fair bit of hand-waviness to Fallout lore, at a certain point the explanations begin to break down. I mean, if we want to consider the aliens that arrived in Fallout 3's DLC, a lot of possibilities open up
    – WestonM
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:39

As far as i know, there is no logical explanation behind it. The game itself is rather old, with the first part being released 1997. I'd say they never had a reason to actually change the theme.

Wikipedia says:

Although the series is set during the 22nd and 23rd centuries, its atompunk retrofuturistic setting and artwork are influenced by the post-war culture of 1950s America, and its combination of hope for the promises of technology, and lurking fear of nuclear annihilation.

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    Your quote has the actual reason but your commentary contradicts it. Also, might be worth noting that that isn't how computers looked in 1997, anyways.
    – Vemonus
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 13:19
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    I realized that too shortly after i wrote it. I actually have no idea what I meant with this. Well, I leave it be until the SO Lawnmower comes and takes this thing down. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 13:23
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    @YUNOWORK: Only spam gets automatically deleted, this answer will just get downvoted into oblivion unless you delete it yourself. Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:08
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Nah. It'll stay then and be a monument of my stupidity. A reminder to myself that not everything I say is correct and awesome Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 20:12
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    That's not the point of deleting at all :) Don't worry, you'll still see the deleted post yourself (as will people with enough reputation) - the point is simply to make the site a better, cleaner Q&A.
    – Luaan
    Commented Sep 26, 2016 at 8:05

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